FACTS ARE STRANGER THAN FICTION
even if your skill is not great, your possibility to express is still boundless
– Interview with Aleksandar Zograf -
Aleksandar Zograf alias Saša Rakezić is a comics author, journalist and storyteller based in Pančevo, Serbia, worldwide known by his short documentary/biographical stories that are being published in Serbian political weekly Vreme, as well as in a number of magazines and online portals worldwide.
RP: Your stories cover the very range spectrum of topics – including past, civic history, interesting personal stories/biographies of unknown people, stories about other cultures that you visit..but besides such diversity in topics, your comics are always recognizable at the first sight, one doesn't even have to read the page in details to be sure that its the work of Zograf..how do you manage that?
I think that my interest is to present reality, to view the reality by the means of comics. It’s simply hard for me to get into phantasies – most of the people think of comics as a vehicle to enter the world of phantasy, but for me it’s always the REAL WORLD which inspires me most. Even if you take a daily newspaper, you’ll see that every day is full of little wonders, it’s filled with drama and humor. “Facts are stranger than fiction”, that’s for sure.
I think about it every day. Even when I speak about dreams or some events that happened thousands of years ago, I’m interested in it as something that affects or forms reallity. My drawing style was formed by reading a lot of old comics, and early 20th Century literature and art in general. I’m not really nostalgic, since it’s the time before I was even born. And even though most of my comics comment our present time, I guess that this focus on old art is something that somehow forms “Zograf” style, if there ever was one.
RP: Besides comics art, you are also active as a journalist for many years already..where do these two disciplines intersect, for you, and do they influence each other somehow in your work?
I always liked journalism. Even when my interest moved towards creating comics, I liked to visit staffs of the magazines – journalists always know about the things that are happening in the society, behind the curtain. They have a nerve for following the pulse of the events as they develop on the daily basis. That’s fascinating! When I was about 17, I started to contribute my articles to national magazines in Yugoslavia, writing mostly about new wave music, and in later years writing about art and comics. Even now, I keep submiting my articles to Vreme and other magazines, occasionally writing about archeology, etc. It is an extension of my interest in REALITY. Great thing about journalistic work is that it requires investigation, you sometimes have to track the events or motifs of the other people. That’s exciting, and you definitelly learn something in the process.
Once I was really intrigued by the reports of the discoveries of the early hominids remains in a cave in Serbia. I tracked the archeologist, Dusan Mihailovic, who did the escavation, learned about this exceptional find, and about the whole topic. It’s all very thought-provoking. Regulary, these things don’t get into your scope, it’s all far away from your reach or your everyday reality, if you are not on an asignment. I wish I would have more time for my jornalistic work, but creating weekly comics (as I do now for Vreme) absorbs a lot of time and energy. And yes, sometimes my comics are in this journalistic vein too. I did comics travelogues, comics interviews, esseys in comics. It’s all intermerging, ever changing, and searching for new definitions.
RP: Following your work and moves for many years alraeady, i must say i noticed something in your work that could be called “the simpler the better” approach in production, which is quite of a skill nowadays, having on mind that most of the artists are not so trained in accomplishing great things in the most simple ways..does that come from the pressure of circumstances during your development as an artist in late 80's and early 90's, was that the influence of DIY culture from which you originate, or something completely else?
I was very much under the influence of D.I.Y. culture. I was about 16, when I started to work on fanzines, and I still occasionally do various forms of self-production. I believe in spontaneous and joyful creation. It’s vital to do something on your own, even if you don’t have a fucking diploma. And even if your skill is not great, your possibility to express is still boundless. I like to study the Neolithic art.
Neolithic people were egalitarian by nature, and they were living what they were creating. You may say that their art is not as developed and skillful as the art of the later periods, but they were free and somehow happy. In the colective remembering of some nations, such as Ancient Greeks, it was known that invention of metal (which ended the Neolithic period) ment struggles and wars and all the things that are not so pleasant. In some way, the D.I.Y. culture of today is egalitarian, joyful response to the world full of tensions that we are living in.
RP: In some way, i hope i don't exaggerate when i say that you are a living legend, and part of the mostly not so well known and hidden history of the new-wave urban culture of 80's in socialist Yugoslavia..can you give us some tips from the first hand, how was it back then? What would you list as the main similarities/differences between those days and today in terms of everyday life, freedoms, culture, behaviour, people?
It were quite exciting times, and you knew it, it was in the air. A lot of punk/new wave bands were formed in the late 70s/early 80s, and there were independent media made by the kids on the street, such as fanzines – just like in many countries in the Western world, and yet Yugoslavia was a Socialist country. I was creating a fanzine called Kreten (Cretin), and distributed it by mail (of course, I mean snail mail!). What was great was the feeling that we were making our own culture, there was no one to instruct us, no one to tell us what is good or bad. Basically, you have the same thing today, except that in this point of time you don’t have the feeling that it’s so important any more. Outside from the underground art circles, the life in Socialist Yugoslavia was cheap and stressless, but we also lacked the efficency of today, when computers are making things much easier, and communication works faster…
RP: And, for the end of this short interview, i hope its not too naive or rude to ask from you to tell us – what will future bring?
You mean, what is the future going to look like? I think that, as ever, we will gain something, and we will loose something. That's what happens all the time. I think that technology of the future will be ceneterd around transportation, and that it will make us even more mobile. The world will be without borders, and to move from one part of the globe to another will be faster and cheaper. But, people will probably grow even more nimb, they will lack challenge, and that's what art will try to solve.
Ha, and that's funny, if you asked me this same question when I was young, like, when I was 14 years old, back in 1977, I would be much more pessimistic. I would probably say that world is heading to its doom, and that technological growth and overpopulation is actually leading to a catastrophy that is just around the corner. Am I turning into silly old sucker or what?