Who was Sava Popov? The Unlocking of an Archive
Who was Sava Popov? The Unlocking of an Archive


Who was Sava Popov? The Unlocking of an Archive

Grandfather God Walking the Earth

After returning from Paris, Sava Popov and Iliya Beshkov worked together again. In December 1939, on Christmas Eve, Todor Chipev published Grandfather God Walking the Earth. The stories in this little book are parables of sorts, filled with moral messages. The Lord has come down to Earth in the form of an old man. He tests people, gives them advice, and rewards them for their goodness or punishes them for their wickedness. As in the previous book The Devils in the Cellar, Ilya Beshkov again drew large capital letters, but here they take on the role of the main illustrations, to which small drawings are added as vignettes at the end of each story.

Reviews in the press were good. The journalist Ivan Pavlov wrote the following in the survey of children’s literature for 1939 in the newspaper Vecher (Evening): “The young writer Sava Popov, after the wonderful book The Devils in the Cellar, which he published last year, has now written a new one – Grandfather God Walking on Earth. These are stories saturated with beauty, wisdom, and poetry, which will warm every child’s soul and awaken in it a sense of the good in life and a feeling for truth and justice.”

These quiet, modest, and contemplative children’s stories actually presume interpretations by adults. They are akin to the fairy tales of the 19th century. They begin with “Once upon a time…” “There was once…” or “A long time ago…” The collection shows the affinity of the two authors for the rural idyll and a moral system that is foreign to the contrasting and turbulent 20th century. The scenery is rustic, and many of the storylines follow or arise from the seasons and the vicissitudes of nature. Relationships in small communities, with their unwritten laws, are thematized. The narrative moves at a slow pace. The text and illustrations are in harmony, but unlike The Devils in the Cellar, where the drawings have a childish madness and energy, here everything is static and more contemplative, as in a medieval text.

Sava Popov on Filev Chipev

The publishing of children’s literature in Bulgaria began at the end of the 19th century, at first with cheap pamphlets, and then with small-format, unbound books. There was a visible lag behind Central and Western European publishing houses in terms of selection, printing, and bookbinding. In the period after 1930, though, there was a kind of blossoming. The publishing houses Hemus and Chipev stand out in particular. Todor F. Chipev, with his wife and 11 sons, also owned the largest bookstore in Sofia, on Dondukov Boulevard. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the beginning of his friend Filip Chipev’s publishing activity, on October 30, 1940, Sava Popov wrote:

If today we can talk about a fine Bulgarian book and about an individual creator and supporter of it, we cannot but emphasize the name of Filip T. Chipev, who these days marks twenty years of book publishing activity. Few readers see the work of the publisher when they read a book, because few are familiar with the birth of the book. But they unconsciously feel the pleasure and joy of a well-designed book, of a well-printed book, of an artistically bound book. The master of the fine book in our country today is Filip Chipev. With a refined artistic sense, with an excellent technical knowledge, he is a true artist in this regard. It is thanks to him that we have such well-published books today, especially in children’s literature! He was the first to work on mass artistic binding of books. And today there are already editions that come to the market only bound in hardcover. Humble, Filip Chipev is also a wonderful person. All who have come into contact with him – writers, artists, journalists, printers, zincographers, bookbinders – have become his friends. We wish him many more years to beautify the Bulgarian book.”

Beshkov draws Filip Chipev

The dealings among artists, writers, and publishers in this period was the subject of puns, incessant jokes, and self-mockery. Bohemianism was their way of life. One of Filip Chipev’s nicknames, because of his high cheekbones and facial features, was “the Skull.” Iliya Beshkov, who was insightful and ruthless in his portrayals of everyone – himself included – did not spare his friend and publisher either. In the archive of Sava Popov we find this print of the original caricature for publication in a newspaper.