You Have to Read This Lost Soviet Submarine Comic
‘Humor Northern Submarine Fleet’ subverts the Red Navy
Originally published on July 6, 2014.
If you’re interested in military comics, this ’70s-era Soviet comic about life aboard a ballistic missile submarine is essential.
Humor Northern Submarine Fleet is an outrageous comic. There’s patriotism, some remarkable illustrations—and also an acidly subversive presentation of Soviet naval life.
The comic has circulated around Russian forums for years, but has only now been translated into English with the help of Redditors lilyputin and Vepr157. The translations are rough, and some of the panels appear to be out of order, but it’s definitely worth checking out.
Comics are great at showing the absurdity of military life while cutting across language barriers.
Humor Northern Submarine Fleet is one of a kind, and resembles a cross between The Hunt for Red October and the hedonistic 1972 cartoon Fritz the Cat.
Russian navy forumers attribute the author, O.V. Karavashkin—to Oleg V. Karavashkin—an assistant submarine commander who held the rank of Captain First Rank while serving at the Soviet Union’s Barents Sea ballistic missile submarine base at Gadzhiyevo.
The specific vessel in the comic appears to be a nuclear-powered (and nuclear-armed) Project 667SU submarine, known in the West by its NATO class designation Yankee. The date June 17, 1972 can be seen written on a beam in one panel. That’s close to the launch date of the Yankee-class submarine K-241.
But the bulk of the comic is a psychedelic trip into the claustrophobic, high-pressure environment of the Cold War.
There’s a bumbling, psychotic and red-faced ogre of a commander. He pushes his weight around, screams at sailors caught slacking off, only to fall asleep on the job before being bolted awake by a sudden dive.
In another panel, officers appear to single out a sailor for ridicule in front of his comrades.
Heavy seas throw sailors around inside the hull. One spews vomit from his mouth. Another appears to distill homebrew vodka as sailors look on thirstily with flasks in hand.
There’s also more mundane panels, featuring everyday life aboard a submarine.
Sailors load supplies onto the vessel. The boomer slides over the waves during surface night operations. Tug boats nudge the submarine around in port. The sailors fight rough seas while bringing on extra crew while underway.
Staff officers haphazardly plot the submarine’s course, their arms entangled over a map like they’re playing Twister.
Karavashkin also takes some creative liberties. In one short story, the submarine spots a fishing vessel straying into its area of operations.
The fishermen play dominoes on the deck, and don’t look particularly busy.
“The devil knows what!” the workaholic commander shouts. “The crew is trying to evade work.”
He orders the submarine to dive 180 meters into the fishing vessel’s net, giving the ship a jolt. Fishermen and dominoes go flying.
Next, the massive submarine blows ballast and surfaces right under the poor fishermen, throwing their boat right out of the water. That’ll show ’em.
The comic also has its sublime moments. Sailors stand in awe of the northern aurora—a fantastic sight in the Barents Sea. The submarine’s torpedoes buzz past a killer whale in pursuit of a fishy meal.
Humor Northern Submarine Fleet is worth checking out in full. It’s groovy.