Friday, November 23, 2018

Exhibit Review: The Very Best Of Slovenian Comics

Tomaž Lavrič
by Mike Rhode

The Very Best Of Slovenian Comics. Izar Lunaček (with translation assistance by Nejc Juren). Washington, DC: Embassy of Slovenia. November 2, 2018 – February 8, 2019. Open Monday-Friday 9 am-5 pm, by appointment via sloembassy.washington(at)   or 202-386-6601.

This no-frills exhibit of reproduction of pages mounted on foam core may not be the most beautiful  and certainly not monetarily valuable exhibit on display in Washington now, but it does provide an overview of a largely-invisible European comics scene. Lunaček, who visited DC recently to promote the Animal Noir comic that he did with Juren, opened the exhibit with a short lecture on the history of Slovenian cartooning both before and after the breakup of Yugoslavia. The exhibit itself is rather minimalistic in regards to explanatory text, which is only provided via Lunaček's cartoon history that runs along one wall. The exhibit would have definitely benefitted from additional panels explaining the transitions from funny animals to punk / alternative to the current wide variety of styles and stories. Having heard his lecture, I am able to put the images into context with the changing world including big issues such as the fall of Communism and the dissolution of Yugoslavia, to the small but vital anthology and cooperative Stripburger, which published many of the modern-era cartoonists in the show.
Miki Muster
From a recording of his remarks, he noted that a cartoonist could make a living in Yugoslavia just from comics, but that was no longer possible in the smaller Slovenian market. The first comic he showed in his lecture, not displayed in the exhibit from the first decade of the twentieth century was a political cartoon where aristocrats of the Austro-Hungarian Empire showed their massive penises, and looked as though it was influenced by Japanese erotic prints. Beyond that, and other satirical comics, their first real master creator, Miki Muster, was a cartoonist influenced by Disney and Walt Kelly's Pogo who created an influential series of over forty funny animal albums from the 1950s through the early 1970s. They still are the best-selling comics in the country.

Kostja Gatnik

In the 1970s, Muster's style was challenged by Kostja Gatnik, whom Lunaček referred to as a hippy and their "Robert Crumb." Three pages of material that was clearly from the 1970s showed Gatnik's range of styles, but to make a living he switched to illustrating children's books. In the 1980s, comics were tame in Slovenia with only Marijan Amalietti's erotic comics worthy of notice. The Slovenian scene was jolted out of its classical period by a journalist who died young in the war, but before that he wrote widely on European comics. The most famous cartoonist to come out of the new wave/punk music and comics scene was Tomaž Lavrič with his stories Red Alert (1993) and Bosnian Fables (1994). Fables was one of Bosnia's biggest international success, translated into European languages, and "is little tales of the Bosnian war, but from all sides." Two pages showed Zoran  Smiljanić's historical comics about the (fictional) last Yugoslavian soldier abandoned in Slovenia. The next panel was of Dušan Kastelic's short strip from 2000 about conformism and literally knocking down the one person sticking up in a crowd which he turned into The Box, an award-winning computer-animated cartoon in 2017. The exhibit then turned to alternative cartoonists who worked in their fanzine Stripburger in the 2000s. The magazine became the training home of many young cartoonists. Lunaček who also started there, put a couple of his newspaper comic strips in the exhibit, as well as some pages from Animal Noir. The exhibit ended with work from the last decade by Kaja Avberšek and her diagrammatic comics, Stripburger's current editor David Krančan and his Drunken Rabbit, and Miha Hančič.
Miha Hančič
Lunaček and Juren's translations of the comics are very good, as one might expect after finding out that they wrote Animal Noir in English first and had to back-translate it into Slovenian. The main problem for a viewer of an exhibit with a wide range of art like this is the unfortunate realization that very little of this material will ever be translated in full and released in English.
(This review was written for the International Journal of Comic Art 20:2, but this version appears on both the IJOCA and ComicsDC websites on November 23, 2018, while the exhibit is still open for viewing.)

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