On October’s First Thursday, Floating World will present a gallery show with the work of Igor Hofbauer, Dunja Janković, Aleksandar Opačić, and Radovan Popović, leading artists from comics collectives in Zagreb and Belgrade. Forged in the social turmoil that accompanied the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia in the nineties, indie comics and ‘zines (cheap to produce, ignored by the cultural and political establishment, and inherently subversive) became the refuge for underground artists across the region. Today these collectives have come of age and the artists represented here are producing some of the most exciting work coming out of the fringe of Europe. This show is the first of its kind in the US. Floating World will also be offering books and ‘zines from the region that are otherwise unavailable in North America.
WHO: Igor Hofbauer, Dunja Janković (in person), Aleksandar Opačić, Radovan Popović
WHAT: Gallery show and opening reception
WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 2nd, 6-10PM
WHERE: Floating World Comics
20 NW 5th Ave 101
Portland, OR 97209
Show runs through Oct. 31st
Poster by Radovan Popović
IGOR HOFBAUER – Igor Hofbauer (“Hof”) is one of the most recognizable artists working in the ex-Yu today. Living and working in Zagreb, Croatia, he developed his signature wood-cut-esque style and propensity for lurid, underworld stories as the graphic artist for Močvara, a famous Zagreb club. Concert posters turned into album covers and some winning illustrations for underground writer Edo Popović, and eventually Hof turned his eye to comics. He’s regularly published by Komikaze (www.komikaze.hr) and Stripburger, and recently has had a slew of gallery shows across the Balkans.
DUNJA JANKOVIĆ – Growing up on an island in the Adriatic, later attending the art academy in Zagreb and then moving to New York to do a graduate degree in illustration and comics at School of Visual Arts (where she worked with such folk as Gary Panter and David Sandlin), Janković’s comics are fantasies, equal parts breezy and horrific, flights of fancy, and a girl’s daydreams of the ocean and all the irrational flotsam to be found when once can escape the city’s grid. Recently she published Agony! The Story of a Girl Who Didn’t Know How to Find Her Way Out of a Situation! (published by Fabrika Knjiga, Belgrade). She also publishes regularly with Stripburger and Komikaze.
ALEKSANDAR OPAČIĆ – Opačić (aka Profesor) completed his coursework in the painting department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade in 1999. Although he had been a comics fan since boyhood, he didn’t start drawing his own comics until he finished with the academy and, eligible to be drafted into Milošević’s army, went into hiding to avoid the draft. Shortly thereafter, NATO bombs rained down on Serbia and Opačić found himself with a lot of free time for drawing. His work tends is often wordless, most often featuring lost or hunted characters in caught in gritty cities and surreal landscapes. He is a member of the Belgrade multi-media collective, Kosmoplovci (www.crsn.com/studiostrip), has published extensively in Serbia as well as with Komikaze in Croatia, Stripburger in Slovenia, and Cestbon in Sweden.
RADOVAN POPOVIĆ – Radovan Popović (aka Rashid), the de facto leader of Kosmoplovci, has been at the center of the Serbian comics scene for over a decade working as a visionary editor, organizer of many comics festivals and events, a dedicated and talented artist, co-founder of Beopolis (the largest bookstore for alternative comics in Belgrade), and as a spokesman and all-around cheerleader for comics. Interestingly, though Popović had been one of the most prominent figures in the Serbian comics scene through the nineties, he didn’t begin seriously drawing his own comics till 1999. Since that time, however, he has drawn literally thousands of pages which spill out of boxes and shelves, reducing the floor in his bedroom/studio to one narrow path from door to drawing table. His work tends in two directions: spontaneous, playful and short comics, often well steeped in irony, and dark, psychological, expressive, labor-intensive longer works which often combine drawing with painting and collage. Most recently, Popović published Šaka (The Hand, 2007) based on the Philip K. Dick short story “The Electric Ant.”
Komikaze’s website: http://www.komikaze.hr/
Komikaze English introduction page: http://www.komikaze.hr/wiki/pmwiki.php?n=Komikaze.English
Yugoslav independent comics didn’t register on the radar of readers in the West till the nineties when some little comics (most notably those of Aleksandar Zograf), clinging to the underbelly of the Big Serious News stampeding out of the region, found their way into Western publications. Individuals were speaking out from these “dangerous places,” recording their own stories, exploring the dirty corners of dark times, and reinventing comics in a time and place when everything was turned on its head. These comics spoke to a generation for whom day-to-day life was probing new depths of absurdity as inflation rendered currency valueless, communists became rosary-toting folk heroes, war criminals became pop stars, dictionaries were rewritten, borders were redrawn and cemeteries sprouted up like mushrooms. Furthermore, they did so in an accessible, unprepossessing (and often underestimated) medium perfectly suited for conveying the voice of the counter culture. As the nineties dragged on, more and more inspired individuals flocked to the comics scene to vent, find community, and, it turns out, create some of the most vital, dynamic, intelligent and engaging comics appearing anywhere in the world. In a Darwinian twist, isolation and adversity brought the oddballs and outsiders to the top of the heap and by the end of the nineties, underground artists had a strong edge over the mainstream.
Now it’s a brave new century, the dictators have been toppled, the curtains lifted, and the independent comics artists from Serbia and Croatia find themselves a little more ripened, yet still armed with a practiced distrust and cynicism, humor (of the gallows sort), and an abiding sense of community. In this future of “bright tomorrows,” they’re up against more insidious beasts than dictators and bombs: “transitional economies” (which usually means losing your social benefits while rich foreigners buy up your property). The artists in this show represent the cutting edge of the Croatian and Serbian comics scenes. They’ve cut their teeth in isolation and adversity and set up a working culture that exists outside of the market and transcends borders. With the help of the internet, these artists from their perch on the periphery have begun to infuse the world comics community with their energy and innovative approaches to comics. This is the first show to bring this work to audiences in the US.
Interview with Dunja Janković – Stripburger 46 (Oct. ’07):
The recent release of Dunja’s new album Agonija! was a good excuse to finally interview her. Comic artist, drummer and bicyclist from Croatian island Mali Lošinj is currently studying illustration in New York. In this e-mail interview, we talked about comics, the sea, the brain and things which, like it or not, come out of them.
L: Publisher Fabrika knjiga (The Book Factory) recently released your new album, Agonija! Congratulations! In one of the stories, Betty Boop, Popeye, Mickey Mouse, Pink Panther, Pinocchio and Homer Simpson are sitting behind the same table. How do the heroes of your childhood (I assume) get along?
D: The Serbian publishing house Fabrika knjiga considers itself to be devoted to socially engaged publishing, proof of which being the Studiostrip edition where they have published Radovan Popovič’s comics, The Secret of the Spider’s Blood (Tajna paukove krvi) by Aleksandar Opačić and my own strip. Although at this moment the gesture is apparently non-profitable, I believe the editions will see a bright future, leave a mark in the history and gain universal glory.
Most of the characters you mention are from the strip The Night Sea (Noćno more) and they are not my childhood heroes. They are merely a graphic presentation of the differences in human characters in a given situation, the situation being a gathering of writers who have a tendency to constantly open their mouth in order to produce the phenomenon we call speech, sometimes even without the intention of communication. This seemed funny to me, so I decided to depict them. I chose the characters randomly.
The strip is somewhat personal, since it is based on the experience of a real boat-race, organized by the newspaper Morsko prase (Sea Hog). In this way, it is understandable to the co-racers and at the same time, open to interpretation.
L: You publish extensively in the local media, for example in the civilian initiative Volim Lošinj (I Love Lošinj) and in the mentioned paper Morsko prase, dedicated to the sea and its inhabitants. It seems that the sea motif is very important to you, right?
D: The opportunity to publish for Morsko prase, a sailing and culture magazine, seemed bizarre at first, but it was undoubtedly a challenge that forced me to create one comic strip a month for almost two years and to produce my own creative system; I never had it before.
After I spent some years in Zagreb studying, the sea started to gain value for me. My grandfather used to take me out sailing when I was a child, so it grew on me in my most tender age. By sea I’m not only referring to the big blue salty mass, but everything it entangles. I’m referring to the nature around it, the relationships, the funny characters, and the sailing, the sun, the wine, the olives, the roasted octopus.
What is interesting is that I feel a greater need to evoke the sea in my works when I’m stuck in the city than when I’m home on the island.
L: There is a conviction that women are mostly readers of comic strips, if that; they rarely create them. This assumption is based on the fact that women authors are in utter minority when it comes to comics. How do you get along in the world of independent comic strip?
D: The comic scene I am part of includes many women. To cite just some of the names: Ivana Armanini, Irena Jukić-Pranjić, Anna Ehrlemark, Maja Veselinović. In the workshops I meet many girls who are interested in comics. I am aware of the fact that men outnumber women authors, but this actually makes sense, if we take into consideration how the generations of pre 70’s era were raised. It was a world of strict division into male and female callings. Comics became a form of entertainment for boys and this was the path the industry took. I don’t think women would be very interested in drawing sweaty muscular men in tight costumes.
It was not until the underground strip phenomenon, which brought a freedom of expression, that women started to get more actively involved in the creative process. Entire generations are needed to achieve balance, but today the number of women authors is rising, especially in the USA, so I don’t think there is much to worry about.
L: In regards to this, how do you see the award for the best comic strip you received last year at the only comic strip festival in Croatia, Crtani roman šou (Comic Strip Show)?
D: It’s recognition of another strip scene and in this sense I believe that there is more to be done for achieving a certain coexistence, taking into account the limited size of the comic strip community. I am referring to a group engagement to the distribution and publishing, maybe even in the sense of finance acquisition, not necessarily in the sense of hanging out together.
L: In one of your interviews you said that you categorically reject the essentialist categorization of art made by women as “women’s poetics” or even “women’s humour”, but you still recognize reasons for differences that undoubtedly exist between comics, produced by women (or better said, feminists?) and comics, produced by men.
D: I reject such limitations, mainly because such categorizations cannot be found with works of our male colleagues – imagine classifications such as “male poetics” or the “brutishness of male literature”. The physical difference between the sexes is obvious, but there is also a difference in the way of thinking; as long as there is such a thing as “female literature”, the work of women in being ghettoized. The differences have to be recognized, but more in the sense of specificity. Works should be assessed according to other criteria than the sex.
L: How do you view your own work, which digresses from the realistic and linear storytelling? Your comics don’t have the typical dramatic structure, but are rather structured on absurd and surrealistic twists.
D: The classic dramatic structure is something I struggled with many years, because it was enforced as a rule. Now I’m beginning to see that this rule applies only to the Hollywood-type movies chasing after the Oscar. To me, this was always a hinder when it came to inspiration. I don’t like predictability and I always want to escape it. From the moment I gave up on the system, I stopped having problems with creativity. I treat comics as inserts from a larger story, I don’t know where it beings and I have no idea where it will end.
L: Your comics easily transcend from the tangible to the fantasy world. How hard is it to portrait these transitions between levels of reality?
D: The so-called tangible reality is one of the greatest frauds we unconditionally believe, even though it could be just one layer of a given infinity. Today there is a “media reality” that touches our personal reality to the extent we are not even aware of.
When I am creating a comic, what is most important is to surprise myself and in this way I achieve twists that are reminiscent of the dream world. I always manage to find symbolism in these absurdities, which proves that everything has its own meaning and that nothing is a coincidence. Brains are too mystified; they are just an organ weighing around 1400 grams.
L: Does your sense of humour help? We know it to be dark and sometimes mean, but at the same time breezy.
D: I see my work as a type of psychotherapy, but my humour stems from my attitude towards myself. When I’m not comfortable with myself, I get too cynical, and sometimes I’m the only one who’s laughing at my jokes; sometimes I cry and sometimes I get hysterical. I love the fusion of humour and horror; it results in a tingling feeling inside me that escalates into dilated pupils and finally ecstasy. In any case, I cannot imagine life without humour, no matter its shape or size.
L: Is your creative process based on associative mind flow or do you begin your work with a prepared script and storyboard?
D: Only one idea is enough, but has to be interesting enough to get me started. I develop my story and draw around it, than I remove it from sight, and finally, after two or four days, I bring it back to light for a few hours or the entire afternoon, but never at noon. I tackle it seriously with a balanced energy flow. After a week I change the concept and get completely lost. The result is a complete mess, but I don’t touch it again.
L: From the very beginning you worked with the Komikaze collective that supports new authors in printed and on-line publishing. Komikaze has published your first strip album. What do you think about its efforts and work that promotes the independent comic strip and the experimental and equal-opportunity approach to creating comics?
D: Well, not long ago, my colleague Opacic came to visit me at the island and we were discussing the boom that Komikaze made in the past years. Ivana Armanini, who at first glance seems totally relaxed and unbothered, stirred a true revolution on the alternative scene in a short period of time. The indiscriminative approach toward shapes, heterogeneity and affordable new media presentations are key points to creativity, or should I say explosion of this particular comic strip scene. We live at a time when comic strips feature just about anything, when the media and the form are yet to be fully explored, when a market is forming and is yearning for innovation. Chris Ware, who lives in the US, doesn’t have an interesting artistic approach, but is great at experimenting with the narrative part of the work. In his last work, Charles Burns places photographs next to each other to create an atmosphere, a story, an allusion without a text. Hospital Brut from France is extremely artistic and expressive; their editions are exhibitions on paper. At this moment we don’t realize that the comic strip is turning into a true avant garde in the world of art. Anything is possible. But there is an obstacle, and this is the capitalist system. This is why creativity is much stronger in these parts than in United States, and Komikaze have much to do with it in Croatia, as well as Kosmoplovci in Serbia, Stripburger in Slovenia and hyper productive individuals such as Wostok and Igor Hofbauer.
L: You are currently studying in the US. Are you staying at the seaside? Will we see you here again and read more of your comics?
D: I am currently doing postgraduate studies in illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. First I wanted to study in France, but since I can’t speak the language, the US won. But I was disappointed. Profit plays the main role in all artistic segments, which means that creativity is narrowed to a minimum. At one of many Komikaze workshops I see more creative and relaxed individuals than I saw in all nine months of my stay in NY.
On the other hand, the amount and the accessibility of information are incredible, books and comics are cheap and available from all parts of the world. Technical superiority and material accessibility is greater than I expected and this encouraged me to experiment more.
New York lies next to the cold and filthy Atlantic Ocean. But the beach does offer a spectacular view of the skyscrapers and the planes in the blue sky, letting out their jumbo commercials, asking difficult philosophical questions (What is good life?) and offering very clear answers (Taco Bell Burrito!). If nothing else, I will create a strip on incredible emotions that overwhelm me when I buy a hamburger.