How did you get involved
in the wonderful world of pop culture (and I don't mean sleazy and commercial
pop culture)? What got you into music and comics?
I think I have liked pop culture products from the start of my very existence! My parents were only 20 years old when I was born, and my father's good friend was Mile Lojpur (Bloody legend! - P.), the very first rock'n'roll star in Serbia. So I listened to rock music from the cradle, so to speak... And my mother was a great fan of comics, all kinds of comics. One of the turning points in my tender age was a trashy American TV series "Lost in Space". I was amazed by it! All those cardboard inter-planetary rocket ships and shots of distant planets made of bad plastic models...it seemed so beautiful to me! Later I discovered that I was only 3 1/2 years old when the series was aired by the Yugoslav television. Anyway, it inspired me to imagine my own fantastic world, on a different planet, and things like that... I started to make drawings based on those ideas and it was the fixation that lasted for many years, almost until my teens.
I believe you were the
first person in Eastern Europe who started a fanzine. When was that, what
was it called and what was it about? Did it have a good response and did
it get you in trouble with the authorities?
I was one of the first authors of fanzines in ex-Yugoslavia and in ex-Eastern Europe if you think about the fanzines in a western way (self-published photocopied amateur pamphlets dedicated to independent rock music, comics, etc.). My fanzine was called Kreten (Cretin - and the ad for it was "You've read The Idiot - now read Cretin!" - P.) and the first issue came out in late '79/early '80. It was inspired by the explosion of fanzines in Britain during the punk era, even if I actually saw only very few British fanzines at that time. Kreten was first in Yugoslavia to publish articles about groups like The Residents and Pere Ubu. I also wrote about local bands, published some of my musings, drawings, designs, etc., but it wasn't that good. I was 16 years old at that time and not very smart. Personally, I didn't have any troubles with the authorities because of the fanzines, but at that time in Yugoslavia many people were suspicious about self-published pamphlets, and some early zine publishers were followed by the police and things like that.
You started as a music
writer, right? What did you write about? Did you do interviews or did you
stick to articles? Were you influenced by the "rock critics", such as Lester
Bangs or Richard Meltzer, were you into "Creem" or any other music magazine
for that matter?
I started as a rock critic - writing mostly about 'strange' music, from Residents/Pere Ubu kind of stuff, to new wave bands and local groups. Early 80's was a very enthusiastic, very interesting period in the history of Yugoslav rock scene, so I had a lot of fun being the part of the whole movement and all. Everybody was aware that something important, something exciting was happening around us.
In the second half of the '70s it was possible to buy British music papers (NME, Sounds, Melody Maker) at regular newsstands, even in small towns like Pancevo, where I lived. So I was influenced mostly by the NME and their journalism, it was innovative and fresh. Generally speaking, many people of my generation were into British counter culture; many of them were visited London frequently and some even emigrated there. American scene became more influential in the late '80s.
|I know this question
may seem way out of place, but was drug taking common among your colleagues
and rock musos/artists? What was the opinion on opiates among your fellows,
what was your stand?
Well, I know that many of them took drugs, especially musicians. Personally, I was never interested. I think that it was always more interesting for me to think about the way the drugs are being used in traditional cultures. You will never find addicts in traditional cultures...
When did you decide to
start drawing comics and was it something you wanted to do before or just
a sudden decision?
I started and gave up working on comics on several occasions in my life. I always had the affinity towards the comics, of course. But I just wasn't sure if anyone would be interested to read this strange stuff that I produced. My comics have been published in different Yugoslav magazines since 1986; I published mostly one page stories (some in colour) in a magazine called NON (It's time for more of shameless self-promotion here: I used to write for the same magazine and even "shared" a few issues with Zograf -P.), from Belgrade. I was pretty alone back then, because most of the cartoonists were working on French/Belgian type of comics, based on fantasy, SF, children's stuff, etc. I didn't even have much information about independent/underground comics from U.S. and Europe, so I thought that I was just experimenting with the form of comics, which probably nobody would care much about... Only later I discovered works by Crumb, Deitch, Lynch and others, and it was really comforting to know that there were more people interested in 'strange' comics and alternative ways in art.
It is amazing that you
sparked interest in your work by mail, so could you please share that story
with our readers? What was your reaction when you received the very first
response to your comics from someone abroad?
Since I lived outside the great centres, the only way to communicate with the people whose ideas were similar to mine was by mail... I started to correspond with a lot of people from different countries and realised the importance of exchanging ideas. The first or one of the first reactions to my work from somebody abroad was by Jay Lynch, pioneer American underground cartoonist. I found his address and sent him a letter; I was ashamed to even mention that I was a cartoonist too. I thought that he must have been bored with young, budding artists from small countries. Anyway, I sent him a drawing, my rendition of his NARD'N'PAT characters. In return he wrote something like: "Oh, I can tell that you are a cartoonist too and that you probably publish your stuff regularly somewhere. Can I see more of it?" and he sent me an original drawing, really beautiful stuff, which had great impact on me. After that letter I decided to quit my job at the animation studio and work on my comics and ideas... Jay Lynch helped me publish some of my work in U.S. magazines, which was the beginning of my 'international career'.
I have to say that I see the post system as one of the greatest sources of vital exchange of cultural and emotional contents among people living in different parts of this pathetic world... If I had more time I would use it for writing more letters... It became expensive in a way, and sometimes I just can't afford to write as much as I would like...
|What's the environment
aroud you like for a comic artist? Is there enough support for you and
alike in Serbia at the moment? Is there many people that you can communicate/co-operate
with? Also, what is your status in European scene? Do you get recognition
by major Euro publishers and artists? I know you've been invited to various
comic conventions all over Europe - does it give you some good vibes?
At the moment, it seems that comics are becoming more recognised by people from the media and 'serious' art circles in Serbia. That is good, because many new, young cartoonists
It sure is. Would you
say that there are differences between European and American comics and
does that bother you at all, i.e. do you consider yourself more Euro-
than US-style artist?
I don't really know how to explain it, but I feel that I belong to the American independent comics scene. The fact is, most of my work was published in the U.S. first and only later reprinted in Europe. I never really visited the U.S., and I do not even idolise American culture, but at the moment their comics scene is the most exciting in the world and why not be a part of it? I know that it's strange to live in a country like Serbia and concentrate your activities on a different, distant cultural environment, but why be stuck to your local city limits or state borders? Of course, I do not wish to say that differences between American and European scenes are really important; I may transfer my activities to European or Asian or Australian comics publishers if I find them more exciting. The important thing is not to be trapped by the boundaries, and that's all!
It seems that most of
your comics published lately in the USA and the rest of the world have
been dealing with the war in former Yugoslavia. Did you ever consider it
as kind of a handicap - like, do you feel being used because the war is
(or was, anyway) the current topic in the "Western World", therefore it
is something that is interesting and could sell? Do you think you can get
some of your non-war comics published these days?
Yes - I speak about the war in many of my stories, but it is because I wanted to and not because it sells well or something. Actually, I never really sold a huge number of copies of my stuff - it is basically 'underground' thing... As I said, I wanted to tell a story about an everyday life during the crisis in my country. You will not find too many descriptions of the 'war' in my comics actually. I speak much more about the psychological view of the crisis, about my dream life, about my friends, and what I see on the street. I would be bored to death if I had to do a real 'war story' comic... I've never really liked war comics or movies - where you see soldiers shooting and tanks moving and everything is 'spectacular'... Real war is not like that at all! I was hiding from the draft, and never even got close to the front line, but my friends told me that it was pretty chaotic, and you hardly ever saw the enemy in the 'real' war... You just shoot, shoot at some point in the distance...
Anyway, most of my recent stuff is not connected to ex-Yugoslav war. I'm still working on the things that are interesting me: dreams, personal mythologies, all the strange things that our lives are made of... There are a lot of tales to tell! And yes - I manage to publish it in this publication or that...
Have you ever been screwed
up by some publishers, regardless whether it was money-wise or in any other
Well, the truth is that we are living in a world where the producers of so-called 'art' are not treated very nicely (generally, most people still think that 'work' means sitting in an office or mindless toil for some company... drawing comics, or even writing novels or painting - it's not a "proper job"!). Not to mention the situation with so-called 'alternative art'... Yeah, it doesn't pay much. Even if you publish something in the 'rich' U.S. you will be very badly paid. Plus, some publishers try not to pay you if they can... Very often it is a problem to even receive the copy of your work; Robert Crumb told me that he had problems of this kind with his publishers. Even him! The most respected author in the field!
On several occasions I didn't get paid, although money was promised. Since I live far away it's easy for them to 'skip' me... But that's OK. I don't want to whine too much! It's boring. I learned to get by with the smallest amount of money and to continue with my stuff, my ideas. I really live these comics. So I consider myself to be a lucky guy, after all...
It's quite obvious that
the male character in your recent comics is yourself. Does he resemble
you in real life as well? Like, where do you draw the line when it comes
to involving your real self in your comics?
Yeah - my stuff is autobiographical, generally speaking. But sometimes the character from my comics changes. Sometimes he is more 'cartoony', or more morbid, or maybe even more close to what I really am than my 'outside' appearance... I don't do these changes consciously; it is something that just happens. I think that the realm of comics is a little bit different to a 'real' world, and it has the rules of its own...
I can't imagine that you
could make a living by doing comics, so can you, and if not do you have
a day job or what?
I'm trying to live by doing comics. But, I'm also a journalist, free-lancing for several magazines and periodicals in Serbia. Both of these jobs are badly paid, despite the fact that you have to work a lot. Sometimes I'm tired of all that, but I don't know what else I would do... I used to work in an animation studio for several years, but I wasn't happy with that. I think that it's good to dare and work on your own creative potential...to experiment...
Is your girlfriend Gordana
an artist herself? It's great to see some of her stories being used in
Gordana did a script for some of my stories. She is not an artist in formal way; she is an agriculture engineer (Hey, that's what I studied at Uni, but for a short while - I was so hopeless! - P.) looking for a job. But we are very close and she had some ideas which we worked on together. Since I'm working on autobiographical comics she is a part of my world, and it's obvious that we can understand each other and work together easily...
You've been arrested in
England the last time you were over there. What happened and what sort
of experience did you get out of it?
I tried to cross the British border in a port Dover back in 1989. I went to visit a friend and didn't even think that it could turn into an unpleasant incident... The custom officer thought that I wanted to go to Britain to work on a black market or something, so he didn't allow me to enter the country. I even spent a night in prison (an immigration office that is) before I was sent back on a ship to Belgium... It was awful! The only time that I've ever been to prison (and I'm a quiet, non-violent person) was in Britain! That was a shock for me, and later I avoided to go to Britain where I was invited to 'Caption' and 'UKCAC' conventions. This year they received a grant by a British lottery to organise 'Caption' convention in Oxford and invited cartoonists from different European countries, so I said to myself maybe it is about time to try. I collected the pile of paperwork and a large documentation about my work to show it to the British Embassy when I applied for a visa... They seemed to be interested when they saw the comics published in the U.S. and things like that. So second time around I had no problem! Still, when I went back from Oxford, at the Heathrow airport they looked suspiciously at me at the customs when they saw the writing on my T-shirt: "No Life - Brain Cleaning 9am-5pm"! These people are really paranoid!
That's nothing - a friend
of mine was refused entry to the U.K. just because a custom officer thoroughly
searched his luggage and found my letter to that friend in which I wrote:
"Fuck the rules!". But anyway, your war related comics are very dark and
disturbing and, to me, it seems that you've captured the desperate feeling
of war times quite well. What was the reaction from the people all over
the world? Who in the comics scene responded to your comics and how? Did
you ever get a bad review/critic and how do you react to that?
I had a lot of response from people all over the world, which was really nice! I received letters by different types of people, I mean not only comics fans, but also peace activists, war refugees, journalists, people of different nationalities... The first review of "Life Under Sanctions" came out in Singapore! The Finnish translation of the book was proclaimed to be 'Book of the Year' in Suuri Kurpitsa, their best comics magazine. The response by the comics artists was great! People like Jim Woodring and Mark Martin helped the very production of "Life Under Sanctions", and Robert Crumb, Rick Veitch, Bill Griffith, Chris Ware and others liked it. But there were some negative reviews too. For example, in Arkzin magazine in Croatia - the reviewer thought that I presented Serbs and Croats as equally wrong - which is still not acceptable in Croatia. Also, he didn't like the underground comics, etc. (Must've grown up on "Tom and Jerry" and that sorta crap - P.). By a strange twist of fate I met that guy at a comics convention in Italy. He is a comic author as well. Of course I wasn't angry - I even interviewd him... By the way, I also received very supportive letters from Croatia. I even heard that some of my work was sold there unofficially (i.e. on black market). But there was also a negative review published in Comics Journal - the guy didn't like my "Psychonaut" comics. Oh, well... Can't please everybody!
||Your mini comics are
impressive and something I've never seen before. Have you been doing it
for a long time and could they find their way to the market?
I was introduced to mini comics format through contact with American artists. Minis are cheap to send around - they are handy and communicative. They are the important aspect of my work. "Alas! Comics #1" was translated in several languages, including Basque! Mini comics are the ultimate form of minimalism in comics. I started creating them in 1991, during the peak of the Serbo-Croat war. I did it shortly before my comics started to be published in "big" magazines, and it was important as a way of communication with other artists and zine publishers. Different small distributors all over the world are distributing my minis - the quantities are not big,
What are "TV Addicts"
all about and how many have you done so far? Any success with them?
I did a dozen or so "TV Addicts" (I didn't ask him, but hopefully he had heard The Victims' song of similar title - P.) and I'm trying to sell them to different magazines. They were printed in Serbia in Naša Borba, an independent daily newspaper, and in a magazine called Patagonija. Later the Australian magazine Arena published some, and they should be printed in several different periodicals abroad. These strips are speaking about the relationship between a TV and human beings. It is an interesting relationship, very inspiring...
Dreams play a very important
role in your comics. Could you give us an in-depth explanation as to what
are those "Hypnagogic Visions" of yours and how we can get into that
state of mind?
Hypnagogic state occurs when we enter the zone between sleep and being awake. We usually see slide-like visions, different from regular dreams (which are more like movies). I learned to concentrate and to make quick sketches of those visions, which are often puzzling and weird. Anybody could try the similar thing. Most of my visions are like cartoons, but sometimes I hear music or see photographs, or short animated film sequences, etc. You can concentrate in what is close to your affinity. Try it! (I did once and this amazing verse of a song about my mother killing a rabbit came to mind, but I've fallen asleep soon after and can't remember a single line now! - P.) It's important to keep a notebook close to your bed and to retain your concentration. It's possible, believe me! I have a whole pile of drawings made after these visions.
Since this is mainly a
musical fanzine, could you tell us what rules your world when it comes
to music and do you consider older bands better than the current ones?
I've always been into anything connected with the past - modern age seems uninspired to me. That is probably a stupid, negative way of thinking, but look at old movies, or design of the magazines from the first half of the century... It was wild! And the roaring 60s with its kitsch and its underground novelties. Comics were intense too and so was the music. I like the old music, 40s, 50s, 60s... But I also love a lot of modern music as well. I haven't had an opportunity to hear a lot of new music recently. I like a large variety of styles - from experimental to traditional... But the music from the 60s - simple and intense, yet cheerful - has been great influence. I listened to that when I was a little kid. Punk music for me was the resurrection of the music from the 60s - a great strike of energy. I like old, badly recorded, un-digital music, from the time when black music was angry and beautifully primitive... Most of the contemporary black music sounds tame, digital (with the exceptions, of course, like some reggae stuff). Today I listen a lot of "simple" music like Jonathan Richman, Tom Waits, a lot of obscure groups, etc.
Your Indian name is Dream
Watcher - how did you become an Indian, who gave you that name and why,
and what does it feel like to be one?
This is a really long story, and I'm a bit tired of telling it. Could we skip this one?
(O.K., but I'll tell it
anyway: he became the member of Pan-American Indian Association and he
was given a name Dreamwatcher at the special ceremony.) In one of your
interviews you said that you were one of The Residents. So, could you give
us a bit of a background to that story here - were you just joking or are
you actually one of them? What are they like and where do you keep your
Did I say that? I forgot (honestly). Oh, but I am one of the Residents anyway. Please don't tell anyone! It is supposed to be a secret! No, I'm kidding. In fact, The Residents are Aleksandar Zograf!
Your comics are often
surreal and, even though they are so bizarre at moments that is what makes
them so funny. I can't help but wonder while reading your stuff that you
are in a way, to say the least, a very disturbed person. Now, I hope you
won't get this as an offence of any sort, but do you ever feel that you
might be at least slightly "out there"?
Yes, I know what you mean... I really am a nut, and enjoy it very much. There's nothing bad to it. I can even make some money out of it! Not much, but it's still better than being nice, respectable, sane - and working in a factory...or an office...