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Aleksandar Zograf

Is there life in the Balkans?

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VS: As Spiegelman in Maus or Satrapi in Persepolis, you use a sort of simple, but strong, underground style to express with the comic language your point of view on the life and facts of your country… Why did you choose comics (I know that you are also a good journalist) and how did you come to create your own, personal and original, style?

AZ: Well, I use comics because they are such a strong medium — with pictures and words combined, you can really tell a lot! I had these ideas running inside my mind, and I guess that they had to be expressed somehow, and comics seemed the right channel at the time…  As for my style, it really developed naturally. I made a lot of experiments in the early years, back in the mid 80s, when I started to publish my works in my homeland, Serbia. I did a lot of comics in different styles — after some time, you just discover that there is a specific way that you render your drawings, and it reflects your thoughts and intentions… I have finally started to use this ( a little bit) rough style, which seemed like a reflection of some old expressionistic movies ( even though I hardly know much about expressionistic movies, it’s more like my inner vision of how they should look like, if they were filmed in Serbia in the 90s or the early 2000s)…

VS: Who are the authors that mostly influenced your works?

AZ: There are a lot of different influences… Not only from comics. I like to look at the design of the old magazines, and ads, and animated cartoons. Especially from the 1930s — for me, these were the golden times of visual expression in the mass media…Still, I was very much influenced by contemporary cartoonists, such as Robert Crumb, or Harvey Kurtzman, who actually was at his peak in the 1950s… But a lot of the times I would look at the drawings of the children if I was looking for inspiration — children are so honest, and they draw directly from their own heart.

VS: Serbia is exiting from a long period of blood and sufferings (Milosevic and his four wars, the economic crisis…); how do you see the cultural and politic situation in your country today, four years after the 5 October 2000?

AZ: Situation is getting better, but is still unstable. Belgrade was always epicentre of the unfortunate events — it is the most frequently bombed European capital, first in the early 20th centuries wars, then in the WW1, then several times in the WW2 (by both Germans and Allies), and in 1999… This all is leaving scars. The country is recovering slowly, also because of the politicians, who always make the situation dangerous, and never resolve problems to the fullest degree. Now everybody is expecting to join the European Union at some point, but the crisis is so deep, that objectively it will take much more time then in the other countries of the Region (Slovenia is already in the EU!). But I continue working on my stuff just as before — I didn’t even expect that things were going to be beautiful, I just keep producing my comics and trying to retain the sanity…

VS: What are comics for you? We understand that they aren’t only a simple job, but a way to express your feelings and political opinions… but what (and how) do you really feel when you see your work shape up?

AZ: It would not be an exaggeration to say that comics are my life. Comics are what I’ve got to say. So it’s much more then just a job — I guess that I would have had much more money if I had worked in a factory, or had some other job, a “career”. I draw comics out of my natural intention to express myself. Sometimes I observe my comics like a complete stranger — sometimes I can’t recall why I had to draw this or that, what made me do it. Certainly, when I finish the story, or when it gets printed, I feel like my “mission” on this world has been fulfilled. Just until I get the urge to complete another story…

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VS: What about your next projects?

AZ: Recently, my new book (C’è vita nei Balcani?) came out in Italy, with Black Velvet, and I’m very happy with it. It’s continuing with my presence on the Italian scene, which was so precious to me.
At this moment, I’m continuing to work on my two page weekly comics for the independent magazine in Belgrade, called Vreme. These comics are regularly translated in Italian, and posted at osservatoriobalcani.org. Very soon, I’m planning to complete the collection of these comics to come out in Croatia, for their biggest publishing house, called VBZ. Other then that, I’m preparing the collections of my comics to come out in South Korea and in Hungary. I just want to show that it’s possible to be an international artist, and to jump over borders. Plan is also for Gordana (my wife and co-author) and I to come to the exhibition/event called CRACK!, in Forte Prenestino, in Rome (June 10-12). I will exhibit my comics, while Gordana will show some of the embroideries (ricami) based on my drawings…


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