Nikolaj “Miki” Muster is without a doubt one of the best comic book, picture book and animation artists in Slovenia, even compared to world standards. It’s hard to imagine Slovenian comics without his works and contributions. Sadly… This artist was not always appreciated in his home country. That has changed however but more on that later.
Miki Muster was born on November 22nd, 1925 in Murska Sobota, Slovenia. When he finished grade school he enrolled in the Slovenian art academy and graduated in sculpting. He says he always wanted to study animation and he thought that sculpting was the closest he could get to that, as you need to be skilled in the 3rd dimension and motion to really understand animation.
Between 1952 and 1973 he worked as a reporter for the paper “Slovenski poročevalec” published by Tedenska tribuna after 1974 he worked as a freelance artist. He worked in Germany between 1973 and 1990.
Even as a kid he was fascinated with comics and animation. His greatest inspiration came when his mother took him to the cinema to see Disney’s Snow White and the seven dwarves. That’s when he knew what he wanted in life. He was so inspired by that feature that he took his whole approach to figures from Disney. Miki was quoted as saying: ”The magic of Disney’s figures is that he didn’t use humans. He gave human traits to animals and items and gave them an attractive shape. That’s why they are more popular than human figures, even if they are animated. He gave animals a human character and found the right animal to represent that human character. A human can be identified easier through an animal.”
He had to learn everything by himself. Slovenia is a small country and had no experts on animation back then. He basically learned everything through trial and error since even literature wasn’t freely available.
For full 25 years he drew the popular comic strip Dogodivščine Zvitorepca, Trdonje in Lakotnika (The adventures of Zvitorepec, Trdonja and Lakotnik). His main character was a male fox. An animal known for it’s cunning in Slovenian folklore and stories. At first this fox appeared in comic strips in papers but also appeared in his own books. Later on he added the wolf Lakotnik and even later a turtle named Trdonja.
These comics were his magnum opus. Easily his best know works. They could even be described as a national treasure. No other artist produced works of this quality and magnitude compared to Miki Muster. He wrote and illustrated more than 40 episodes of the popular comic. Even today the comics stand the test of time. They went through numerous reprints and reissues even to this day.
Musters art style could be divided in to 2 periods. The first period could be described as his Disney period. His lines look like pen drawings and he used rulers for his comic panels. With the story “Na Olimpijado” there is a distinct shift in to his later period that could be described as his Kelly (Walt Kelly) period. He left the stiff lines behind and switched the pen for a brush. This new style opened a door for more free and fresh illustrations that at times almost looked like sketches.
Slow evolution of Muster’s style:
An example of the same story drawn in two different eras and styles (the older version is in a differnet format so there’s more panels)
There’s a strong artistic authenticity in his works that meets all the rules of a good comic: animation, bracketing, story and dialog. Muster was able to evolve a unique artistic approach that even if complex or simple is never sloppy. He also has a very well developed literary gift that is evident in the comics dialogs and stories.
It can’t be a coincidence that after 10 years of experimenting, his very first successful attempt at animation features Zvitorepec jumping over a fence. Soon after this success he started animating 30min animated films Puščica, Zimska zgodba and Kurir Nejček for the company Viba.
He created more than 380 animated commercials. His most known are the Cikcak bunnies, Šumi, commercials for the Marcator store chain, Kolinska (Viki cream, Čunga Lunga), Podravka (Medolino and various soups), Medex, Fructal dvojni A (Fructal double A), Dana and Jelovica. He also worked for Elan, Aero, Ema, Termiko and others by developing mascots and other material.
He developed serial in München for Bavaria from 1973 onward. Together with Gillerm Modrill, he created more then 400 extremely successful cartoons. Sadly Muster was never credited for his work on these movies. Up until 1990, while living in Germany, he also created the series “Oma bitte kommen”, a series about a detective Nick Knatterton and shorts on child money saving. He wrote all the scripts, did the animation and copied and painted the backgrounds by himself.
Up until recently Miki Muster was VERY overlooked in the realm of Slovenian heritage and hasn’t received much praise or awards. This can be attributed to his lone rider attitude, since he never took part on meetings held by the Slovenian illustration circle, because he rather crafted away from other people. In 1978 he was the first to receive the Andrija Maurović award for his life work. He also recived a Viktor (Slovenian national award) for his life work in 2000 and in 2014 he was awarded the silver order for his top pioneering work in the field of Slovenian animation and comics.
His greatest praise came in 2015 when he received the Prešeren award (the highest award in the field of art in Slovenia) for his life work. This cemented him as an art power that shaped the history of Slovenia. Not just in the media sense but also as someone that shaped us as people and a nation. His stories containing morals and lessons guided us as children and youths.