Countryballs, also known as Polandball,[a] is an art style used in some online comics in which countries are typically personified as imperfect spherical characters (there are some exceptions such as Nepal, Israel, Kazakhstan and Singapore) decorated with their country's flag. The characters often interact in broken English, and the dialog typically uses regional and/or national variations, depending on the region the character represents (e.g., France's broken English is interspersed with French words). The comics poke fun at national stereotypes, international relations, and historical conflicts.
Countryballs has its roots on drawball.com, a website that allowed Internet users to draw whatever they want on a circular canvas called a 'drawball.' At one point in August 2008, thousands of Polish netizens managed to take over the entire drawball with an illustration of the Polish flag. The circular canvas constrained the flag in such a way that it became a literal 'Poland ball.'
The beginning of the countryballs format proper is credited to Falco, a British user on the German imageboard Krautchan.net who used Microsoft Paint to create a meme of Wojak – a Polish Internet troll on the same board who contributed in broken English. After this, creating countryballs cartoons became popular among other users on the board, particularly Russians.
The style soon grew in popularity on the internet as a whole as a meme, having dedicated communities on platforms such as Reddit and Facebook. The popularity of the style has been attributed to the ability of the drawings to tell short stories of nations in a easily understandable fashion, often with a large amount of jokes and comical undertones, with the characterization of a group lending itself towards a short comic format.
This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (September 2021)
The premise of Polandball is that it represents Poland and its history, relations with other countries and stereotypes, focusing on Polish megalomania and national complexes. With the exception of Anglophone countries, the dialogue of countryballs tends to be written in broken English and Internet slang, reminiscent of the lolcat meme, and by the end of a cartoon, Poland is typically seen weeping.
Polandball's depiction of Poland portrays a number of stereotypes. These include bad English use by Poles, blaming others for its failures in particular given the backdrop of repeated invasions by its neighbours (such as the 18th-century partitions and World War II), Polish propensity for telling tales of the glorious past, and the perception of Poles as "dull-witted" and "psycho-Catholic".
Some Polandball comics arise from the premise that some countries can fly into space, whilst Poland cannot. One of the earliest Polandball comics begins with the premise that Earth is going to be struck by a giant meteor, leading to all countries with space technology leaving Earth and going into orbit around the planet. At the end of the cartoon, Poland, still on earth, is crying, and in broken English pronounces the canonical Polandball catchphrase "Poland cannot into space". In this humorous way, other countryballs put a halt to all discussion with Poles on which country is superior.
Countryballs can also include comics on other countries: these comics are sometimes still referred to as Polandball comics, although they are more commonly also referred to as countryballs. States, provinces, and other such divisions can also be used; multinational organisations such as the European Union, NATO and United Nations are also common.
The simplicity of countryballs, together with its recognition of world history and a focus on current affairs, makes the meme suited to commenting on international events. Amongst events which have been covered by countryballs and have been noted in the media, are the Senkaku Islands dispute, the 2013 papal conclave which saw Jorge Mario Bergoglio being elected as the new Pope, the 2014 Ukrainian crisis, the 2014 Crimean crisis and issues relating to Filipino workers in Taiwan.
A report on the Russian radio station Vesti FM noted a post on Livejournal which asked readers to list five images that come to mind when thinking of Poland or Poles. The five pages of responses, illustrating the complex and often difficult historical ties between Russia and Poland, recalled subjects including False Dmitriy I, Tomek in the Land of the Kangaroos by Polish author Alfred Szklarski, Czterej pancerni i pies ("Four tank-men and a dog"), Russophobia and Polandball.
Wojciech Oleksiak, writing on culture.pl, a project of the Polish government-funded Adam Mickiewicz Institute which has the aim of promoting Polish language and culture abroad, noted that due to anyone being able to create a Polandball comic, the existence of the meme has created new opportunities for people to express their personal views on race, religion and history. In describing Polandball as the Internet meme par excellence, he further stated that comic plots can be "rude, impolite, racist, abusive, or just plain dumb", whilst also noting that the politically incorrect nature of the comics add to the attractiveness of the meme.
At the same time, Oleksiak notes that Polandball comics often employ exaggerated Polish stereotypes, such as Poles not being as proficient in English as other nationalities, and Poland itself being a country full of dull-witted hyper-Catholics. On the other hand, he admits that some stereotypes employed in Polandball comics, such as Poles telling stories about the nation's glorious history and dwelling on a deep rooted martyrdom, are mostly true; whilst the stereotype that Poles hold many national complexes and blame external forces for their own failures, is true, but somewhat justified.
Oleksiak further notes that from Polandball, Poles can learn to have "a sense of humour about our long-time grudges".
In popular culture
- The style may be referred to both as Polandball by convention, even in cases where there is no Poland among the cartoon characters, or countryball (or, collectively, countryballs.)
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- Hoffman, Steven (2 May 2015). "How Polandball can of taking over internets". Krakow Post. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
- "Japon, Chine, vers une nouvelle guerre froide". France Culture (in French). 9 March 2013. Archived from the original on 8 November 2014. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
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- Аниматор из Камышина нарисовал мультфильм о «заболевшей» Украине. Argumenty i Fakty (in Russian). Volgograd. 6 August 2014. Archived from the original on 8 November 2014. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
- "台灣最美麗的風景是人 真的嗎？ (Taiwan is one of the most beautiful landscapes, really?)" (in Chinese). Apple Daily (Taiwanese edition). 31 July 2014. Archived from the original on 6 August 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
- Klava, P. (25 August 2013). Польша у россиян ассоциируется с Лжедмитрием и Польшаром. Vesti FM (in Russian). Archived from the original on 8 November 2014. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
- Oleksiak, Wojciech (9 June 2014). "Polandball — A Case Study". Culture.pl. Adam Mickiewicz Institute. Archived from the original on 6 August 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
- "Polandball: Can Into Space for Nintendo Switch - Nintendo Game Details". Nintendo.
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