:: Article

Regards from Serbia

Aleksandar Zograf, Regards from Serbia, A Cartoonist’s Diary of a Crisis in Serbia (Top Shelf Productions, January 2007)

War, as Boy George so insightfully told us back in 1984, is stupid. In literature, while it is not exactly a barrel of laughs either (Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), there are those that give the subject an irreverent and often satirical treatment, rendering it with a more comic touch (Heller’s Catch-22, Hašek’s Good Soldier Schweik). The same is true in graphic novels: from the hefty Maus by Art Spiegelman to heavy-hitter Joe Sacco’s Palestine, Safe Area Goradze and The Fixer; and from Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to Max Andersson & Lars Sjunnesson’s Bosnian Flat Dog. So it goes. Aleksandar Zograf (real name: Saša Rakezic) sends his regards from Serbia, an ironic intonation of a postcard drawn originally as a strip and sketched with the immediacy of a flak-jacketed war reporter (though time and time again Zograf points out he is not).

As Chris Ware says in ‘A Public Service Announcement from The Acme Novelty Library’, his drawn introduction to the volume, Zograf poses “a grave danger to to our overseas national interests”, for “unlike absolutely every other man, woman and child in Serbia (who are all filthy, bloodthirsty, bigoted savages) Mr Zograf still maintains a pesky apathy towards the actions of his government, hoping only to quietly live his life, buy eggs and draw funny pictures…” (you see, we aren’t supposed to like Aleksandar Zograf; as a Serbian, he’s one of the ‘bad guys’).

Zograf writes: “When the series of conflicts started, I was overwhelmed by the dark overtones of the reality that surrounded me…Suddenly the world around me became the source of nightmarish and intense images and experiences…The material reflecting the turbulent 90s was mostly quite bleak — some of the drawings seemed somehow distorted by my own rag e and misery.” And yet, Zograf’s panels contain some biting humorous panels; like the WWII Tex Avery cartoon he watches on TV, they display “great humor, despite being created during such troubled times”.

Zograf not only sends visual reports, writings on his surroundings—the plundering, the bombings, the sanctions, the shortages, the outages— but retreats into his own inner world, his dreams, feelings, thoughts and ‘phantoms’, similar to the allegorical imagery of David B.: “My stuff is not strictly ‘documentary’..It is some kind of fantastic realism, in a good Russian tradition…I think that the whole situation could be properly described by pointing at some peripheral details… In our life, we are always watching just fragments…We have to use our imagination, if we want to grasp the whole picture.”

It’s not just comic strips either. The second section of the book is e-mails, Zograf’s correspondence and dispatches assuring his friends and fellow artists from around the world he is still hanging on, “How would you feel if you see the red mushroom cloud over your hometown?” This is the first war the internet had an important impact on. This section is also introduced by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame who, in ‘NATO bombing for beginners’, says, “It would be ridiculous to imagine that dropping bombs on peoples’ homes and towns could make things worse. How could it? If that nasty Mr Milošević hadn’t been an Evil Man none of this would have happened. And anyway he has acted most unfairly in using the bombing as an excuse to do all those things to the Albanians that he wanted to do in the first place! [..] And, finally children, I have to tell you that we are all totally perplexed and confounded by the fact that our well-intentioned bombing raids do not seem to have brought the peace and tranquillity to the area of Europe that the NATO general promised. They swore blind that if they were allowed to drop a few bombs in the right places, the whole thing would be over in a week and everybody would be happy.”

How true. Everything and nothing changes.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Susan Tomaselli lives in Ireland where she edits the inimitable Dogmatika and is Comics Co-Editor of 3:AM.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, June 1st, 2007.