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Daogopak: Bringing alive a Ukrainian legend

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Dec. 6, 2012, 9:17 p.m. | Books — by Denis Rafalsky

Daogopak was presented in Book Arsenal, an international book festival held on October, 2012.
© Kostyantyn Chernichkin

Denis Rafalsky

Asterix, the famous Gaul comic book hero, might not know it, but he has a Ukrainian counterpart now. His name is Oles Skorovoda, and he’s the main character of Daogopak. This is the first graphic Ukrainian novel about kozaks who mastered the martial arts and magic of the Zaporizhian Sich, a 15th century attempt to create Ukraine’s first democratic state. 

Published by Nebeskey, a Kyiv-based publishing house, the first of three Daogopak volumes is titled “Tour to Anatolia”. It describes kozak adventures in Turkey.

Daogopak is a hybrid word that combines the Chinese “dao” or “way,” and Ukrainian “gopak” or "hopak", an energetic style of folk dance associated with kozaks. According to a popular theory, the dance is a derivative of a particular ancient style of fighting the kozaks once employed.

The story is based on the life and adventures of a young yet skillful warrior, Skorovoda (which is combination of two Ukrainian words meaning "speedy water" – kozaks often had names that reflected their looks, character traits or habits). Skorovoda goes to Anatolia along with two friends, Taras Peresichevolya (break will) and Mozgovy (brainy), to rescue imprisoned fellow kozaks forced to labor in the dungeons of a new sultan’s palace.

The mythic story is told in a few words guided by 400 colorful pictures on 60 pages. The brave Ukrainian heroes get into all sorts of mischief while confronting weird and wonderful creatures on their quest.

Daogopak, the first graphic Ukrainian novel about kozaks who have mastered the martial arts and magic of the Zaporizhian Sich. (Ganna Bernyk)

Despite the fact that the comic genre does not enjoy great popularity in Ukraine, the authors of Daogopak hope the book will one day be for Ukraine what Astrix is for France. Skorovoda has three dads to thank for his life, not two, as in the case of Astrix, which was conceived and created by writer Rene Goscinny and illustrator Albert Uderzo.

Writers  Maksym Prasolov and Oleh Kolov got together with artist Oleksiy Chebykin to create the book. 

“We take the best epoch that was in the history of Ukraine and on the basis of it build our world,” says 36-year old Prasolov. He says the authors are trying to give a modern twist to the legends, myths and heroes of the past.

“Gauls are France’s pride. Every family, whether of French origin, or immigrants, has a book about the world famous Asterix,” Prasolov says. “I want to give my nation heroes to be proud of.” 

The idea of the novel came to him seven years ago. But it wasn't until four years later that he realized that he “could no longer live without making Daogopak.”  

Prasolov invited his close friend Kolov to work on the plot. Chebykin joined later to draw the actual story. Prasolov  financed the project on his own. A successful public relations specialist, he decided to combine his day job with producing and promoting Daogopak. He keeps the dollar figures to himself, but says he could have bought a flat in Kyiv for the money he invested. 

“Of course, if I only had Daogopak it would have come out much sooner,” Prasolov says. “I hope publishing graphic novels in Ukraine will not just be a patriotic hobby, but something successful.”

The book costs Hr 150, which is not cheap for an average Ukrainian family. But it's a hardback printed on high quality, glossy paper, and targeted at children and adults alike.

Since Oct. 7, when the book first became available in stores, some 2,000 copies have been sold of the 5,000 that were originally printed. The readers fell in love with Skorovoda, who looks a little like Ukraine’s heavyweight boxer Oleksandr Usyk. The boxer won the hearts of his fellow countrymen during the Olympics by not only winning a handful of medals, but celebrating his victories with a hopak, which he danced live on air for an international audience of millions to see.

Prasolov says that even two months ago, the authors of the book did not know whether it would become a success. “Nobody believed it would sell well,” Prasolov smiles. But he was convinced the book was worth it – and he was right.

“There are things that you do intuitively and hit the bull’s eye,” he says. “Daogopak is not something I expected commercial success from, although I knew if I issued the book and nobody bought it, I would simply give the whole print run away.” 

But now, it seems that it will be a commercial success. The authors have offers from Canada and France to publish the novel there. The text has already been translated into English and other languages. 

One offer the publisher received is to turn the graphic novel into a full-fledged book. “We want our kozak character to go global, and gain the same fame as the cowboys, ninjas and other characters of drawn stories,” Prasolov says. 

Skorovoda will have more than just a book. The creators want a version for tablet computers and an animated cartoon.The next two volumes about the heroic warriors of the Ukrainian steppe will be coming soon.  

The second volume is dedicated to the Zaporizhian Sich,l which is located on Khortytsa Island on the Dnipro River. The authors say the book will be set in a kozak fortress full of sophisticated devices and intricate labyrinths.

The third book is said to be about the molfars, who are sorcerers living in the Carpathian Mountains. 'Tour to Anatolia' can be bought in any Knyharnia Ye bookstore or on Daogopak’s website at http://www.daogopak.com/.

Kyiv Post staff writer Denis Rafalsky can be reached at rafalsky@kyivpost.com 

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