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 Zdenek Miler  (1921 - 2011)

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Lived/Active: Czech Republic      Known for: cartoon drawing, Krtek the Mole

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Following is The New York Times obituary of the artist:

Zdenek Miler, Creator of Krtek the Mole, Dies at 90
Published: December 2, 2011

Krtek, a snub-nosed, wide-eyed mole, has delighted cartoon lovers around the world for more than 50 years. Gently, cheerfully and almost always wordlessly, he has prodded bureaucrats, come to the aid of those in need and lamented the destruction of the environment.

In one adventure, he finds his forest invaded by voracious builders but manages to secure a new home in a nearby forest (with the help of a slip of paper from a high-ranking official). In another, he roams the world and is stunned by an American mole’s superior burrowing technology.

“When I draw Krtek I am drawing myself,” his creator, the Czech animator Zdenek Miler, once said. “What I mean is that Krtek is the ideal that should be me. But I can’t meet that ideal.”

Mr. Miler (pronounced miller) died on Wednesday at a nursing home outside Prague, his granddaughter, Karolina Milerova, said. He was 90.

With a mix of humor, thoughtfulness and a lyrical, almost hypnotic presentation, Mr. Miler’s films drew audiences in more than 80 countries, including China, India and Japan. (It certainly helped that Krtek, though a Czech native, expressed himself nonverbally.) More than five million copies of Krtek books, translated into 20 languages, have been sold, as well toys, book bags, puzzles and pillowcases.

But Krtek never caught on in the United States, which troubled the film critic Michael Medved, who tried for years to stoke a following for the cartoon in this country. “I have always considered Mr. Miler to be perhaps the greatest living animator,” Mr. Medved told The New York Times in 2004.

Mr. Miler literally stumbled on his central character. In 1954, when what was then Czechoslovakia was under Communist control, he was working in a movie studio when party bosses commissioned a cartoon to teach children about how trousers are made. The concept was boring, and Mr. Miler did not want to mimic Disney images. Walking in the woods one night, he tripped over a mole’s burrow. “I said, ‘Here’s a good idea,’ ” he recalled.

In the 13-minute film, Krtek makes a pair of linen overalls, with help from a frog who soaks the flax, spiders who spin the yarn, ants who weave the cloth and a crawfish who cuts the fabric.

As The Prague Post wrote in 1995, “The idea became Miler’s paradigm of how an artist could cope with the singularly unimaginative Party bureaucrat.”

Born on Feb. 21, 1921, in the town of Kladno, Mr. Miler graduated from the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. After the war he worked on the first films of Jiri Trnka, the guru of Czech animators. It was while working at the Barrandov Studios in 1954 that he was assigned to make what became How the Mole Got His Trousers.

Besides his granddaughter, Mr. Miler is survived by his wife, Emilie; and two daughters, Katerina and Barbora.

This past July, the mole literally went out of this world when an American astronaut, Andrew J. Feustel, took him (well, a stuffed toy version) on NASA’s last space shuttle mission. But while Krtek returned to Earth, Mr. Miler’s namesake continues to soar.

In 1998, an asteroid orbiting the Sun in the belt between Jupiter and Mars was named after him.


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