I’ve just started Komiks: Comic Art in Russia, by José Alaniz, and I’m enjoying it greatly despite the sprinkling of typos and minor errors that seem to disfigure even the best-produced books these days (and this is a gorgeous piece of work, with a section of color reproductions that make the high price seem justified for once). Alaniz traces the origins of the Russian form back to icons and lubki (the plural of lubok), and here’s an interesting section on the history of the latter word (which I had just assumed was as ancient as the thing itself):
Since Snegirov [should be Snegiryov] launched the formal study of the lubok in the 1820s—to no small controversy among educated circles, who considered it beneath contempt—scholars have skirmished over several issues involved in the study of the subject. Avram Reitblat, reviewing the recent literature in 2001, notes that the very term “lubok” is problematic, since the historical record indicates that before Snegirov few people actually called the prints by that name. Instead, depending on the region and/or what they depicted, the prints went by poteshnie listy (“funny sheets”), Suzdalskie (from Suzdal), panki (“little panels”), bogatyry [should be bogatyri] (“knights”), konnitsa (referring to figures on horseback), friazhkie (“Western European”), prazdniky [should be prazdniki](“holidays”), prostovik (“simple”), balagurnik (“joker,” “jester”), satira (“satire”), Moskovskie kartiny (“Moscow pictures”), or simply listy (“sheets”)—among a plethora of other names.
Snegirov himself called the prints “lubok” fully aware of the term’s ambiguity: did it refer to the bark (lub) of the linden tree, from which he claimed peasants formed the wood blocks; or did it point to Moscow’s Lubianka Street, where the sheets were printed and near which they were sold; or, indeed, to the wooden box in which the ofeni carried the prints for sale? Or did the word simply connote something “crude,” “badly made,” and “ramshackle,” as it did in other contexts? Evidently, Boris Sokolov surmises, Snegirov simply picked one of the local names for the prints; already by the 1840s this had grown into a general term, handed down to the present day.
I love that kind of philological background (though I don’t love the refusal to put Russian words in italics, which makes it just that little bit harder to read, since at first glance you don’t know whether, say, “ofeni” is some obscure English word, a typo, or a Russian word—in fact, it’s the latter, the plural of ofenya ‘peddler, huckster’).
Addendum. I know it’s almost superfluous to say about any new book, however prestigious the publisher, but man, this could have used some copyediting. I’ll give them a pass on “V. S. Zemenkov” for the correct B. S. (his name was Boris), since that takes specialized knowledge, but on p. 20 it has “discreet” when “discrete” is meant, and on p. 39 “…shows the worker grown enormous, so that he now dwarves the Whites…” [emphasis added]. Come on, that’s just plain sloppy.