Whilst reading through and subsequently reviewing Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury’s excellent new book (and ideal stocking filler) The Leather Nun and other Incredibly Strange Comics I had a sudden blast of nostalgia. My memory, always a vague, nebulous thing, suddenly kicked in as I turned to the page on Octobriana.
I remember this I thought. And it came back to me. Sitting in my parent’s car on the way back from Dudley public library with my usual horde of books. I can only have been at most early teens but I had somehow picked up an Octobriana book. Having looked across the Internet I’m increasingly convinced it was this one: Octobriana and The Russian Underground by Petr Sadecky.
Now what the librarians were doing letting a young teen borrow this is beyond me. Essentially it’s along the same lines as our favourite clothes falling off heroine Jane but with more Communism and rescue of the Russian people. There’s plentiful flesh, but never, as far as I recall, in a particularly titillating manner. Octobriana is merely too busy freeing Russia to bother with a proper top for those nippy Russian winters.
Over the years I’ve had cause to remember Octobriana a couple of times, and was pleased to see her play a role in Bryan Talbot’s seminal Luther Arkwright series. I thought at the time it was nice to see Bryan involving a little known Russian heroine in his series, but had no idea of the story behind her.
(Cover to Bryan Talbot’s Luther Arkwright, the Dark Horse reprints featuring Octobriana on the cover)
Of course, after remembering about Octobriana I did a little digging and discovered the fascinating story of her creation. The reason Bryan and countless others have used Octobriana in their stories is because she’s believed to be one of the few modern heroes in the public domain.
The classic story goes that she was created in the 60s by a group of Russian artists who called themselves Progressive Political Pornography (PPP). They created her to be a spirit of the times, both battling for the motherland and, by virtue of her overt sexuality and heroic status, questioning the politics of the time, which the PPP believed had little to do with their true Communism. But this story has been refuted and is largely believed to be nothing more than an elaborate and romanticised hoax on the part of Sedecky. It seems Petr Sedecky created Octobriana as Amazona and hired a couple of Czech artists to illustrate her adventures. When Sedecky left for England in 1967 her took the work with him, copied it, stuck a Russian star on the heroine’s forehead and renamed his Amazona heroine to Octobriana. Armed with the pages, photos of his supposed PPP group and a great story, he turned up at a publisher and the rest is history.
(Telegraph magazine, unknown date. Cover and black and white detail.)
Of course, the story of the PPP led to the belief that Octobriana had been created with true Communist goals and she was a creation of the people, for the people. No-one owned Octobriana. And anyone could write and draw her as they wished. That this isn’t true hasn’t stopped her use far and wide. But like Bryan himself says in this interview, many writers and artists use her likeness unaware of the elaborate hoax Sedacky perpetrated.
A fascinating story for a fascinating character. Amazing what you can turn up in the children’s section at the library next to the Tintin and Asterix books isn’t it?