Friday, 5 March 2010

Around the world in eighty comics: Croatia

Like the pink elephant in the room the fact of Croatian born comic artist Dunja Jankovic's gender really shouldn't really be up for discussion. We like to think we no longer live in the boys club world of underground comix's which the Wimmens Comix movement fought back against. This movement was refreshing because it fought back against the ridiculous notion of a 'feminine' style of art, by producing ugly explicit and overtly sexual and violent art,(*1) much in the same vein as the male underground artists, except this time around the males became the victims, or worse still, they had their male virility and power deconstructed, it was a kind of empowerment through ridicule (Take for example the famous cover of female produced comic Wet Satin where a handsome Marlon Brando type walks down the street and the female on the page is too engrossed in her book (A streetcar named desire) to notice him).

But surely things are different now? Female cartoonists are not nearly as rare as they were back then. The category 'female cartoonist' is a bit of a problematic one in itself, as this kind of lumping together of all women artists/writers etc could be seen to imply that the very fact of their biology has a profound effect on the type of art they are able to produce. I would only argue that women's marginalised position culturally, much like other marginalised groups, has had an impact on the art they make, but it doesn't have to be the be all and end all. I am interested in comics by females that transcend gender as a subject, and to a certain extent this is what Jankovic's work does.

Jankovic tells me that her reasons for creating comics are purely an ego thing, she enjoys doing it, although she wishes she could somehow make a living out of it. Her work doesn't seem to posses an agenda, and although I think an agenda in a lot of cases is a good thing, its possible a stronger statement could be made by not feeling the need to make a statement. Political comics, although important, are often in danger of preaching to the converted. Her stories seem to be about childhood, memories, dreams, and other states of consciousness, as well as more mundane things such as shopping bags, The childhood theme shows itself through an obsession with the sea adventures, sea-creatures, and diving which could be construed by some close minded people as part of a slightly unorthodox tom-boyish upbringing.

Visually, her comics are stunning, some of them in an abstract stream-of-consciousness vein (sometimes wordless) that would sit comfortably in Andrei Molotiu's Abstract Comics anthology. The artist she has a closest affinity with in my eyes is German artist Anke Feutchenburger whose visual abstractions are similar to those of Jankovic and whose representations of the female body, and maternity cause her to be labelled as a feminist artist quite often. Which is probably the reason I went on a bit of a self-conscious apologetic rant at the beginning of this post about categorisation and feminist comics. Jankovic is unafraid to use any and all techniques and styles to create her work, which creates a visual melting pot often within the space of a single strip. She employs collage, charcoal, watercolour, pen and ink, and photographs Unlike Feutchenburger however, her comics are bold, colourful, and a bit more cartoon-ish in some ways, and posses a more whimsical, innocent humour about her.

She was also another artist was brought to my attention through the fantastic portal of comic unknowns that is Komikaze (who she became involved with while studying art in Belgrade) although she is now living in Portland, Oregan, in the USA and has been picked up by Sparkplug comics. Check out her website here and her blog here.


(*1) I'm thinking here of the violent fantasies of Julie Doucet's comics (along with the cluttered frames and mock cute anthropomorphic beer bottles) and the angry erratic line of Roberta Gregory(*2), along with the unconventional casting of a less than perfect female lead in Pudge: Girl Blimp by Lee Marrs

(*2) Although though the very words irratic and cluttered could be seen as negative against women

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