Relentlessly cool, brazenly domineering, the heroism of unapologetic masculinity found a renaissance in the West during the Cold War years. America reveled in cunning, heavily-armed heroes who could thwart those Commie baddies, keep their wits against the seductive wiles of a buxom double-agent, and champion the American Way. So, with the influx of Western pop culture during the Soviet collapse—including campy ’80s American action movies and James Bond spy thrillers—a uniquely comparative and critical space opened up in Russia, as much for art as for entertainment.
Captain Pronin, a short-lived series from the early ’90s created by cartoonist Mikhail Zaytsev, explores this space through riotous satirization of Western action hero culture. The übermacho Captain Pronin (rivaling even Russia’s most darling alpa male all-rounder, Putin) is imagined as the grandson of the fictional Soviet hero Major Pronin. His adventures are full of screwball absurdity and ironic takedowns of misaligned pop culture tropes. With its reflexive outlandishness and poorly translated subtitles, Pronin easily captures the spirit of the era immediately following the Cold War and at the same time wouldn’t seem all that out of place in an Adult Swim line-up.
We find the aesthetic of Zaytsev’s work fascinating, with a playfully amateurish style and an attention to detail that illuminates the complex relationship of cultural differences and similarities between Russia and the West.
“Day and night, for you and me, his unseen fight keeps us free!”