Ivana Armanini (Croatia) – interview, Stripburger 63, April 2014
It happens more and more often that we end up interviewing people for whom it is harder to say that they are purely and simply comic strip artists. Nowadays more and more cartoonists are fighting for their daily bread on several fronts at the same time. Some take up photography, others do animation or illustration, some certainly opt for procrastination… while Ivana is doing all this and more! She hails from Croatia but these days she manages her Komikaze project from her current hideout in Ljubljana. We took the opportunity to catch up with her for an interview before she slips away again.
Boring her with questions was Albahari.
How did your engagement with comics begin? When did you first make their acquaintance, which comics did you read at the time and which authors have influenced you the most?
Comics happened to me quite late in life, a few years after the completion of my academic studies. I was restoring a building; my then coworker was a passionate collector. He used to bring comics with him to work and we’d spend our lunch breaks leafing through them, dangling our feet from a ten-metre scaffolding. That’s how I gained a whole new perspective. It seems to me that it was precisely while reading Emil Jurcan’s fanzine Total Zero in A5-format that I was hit by the fatal arrow. It was love at first sight. Much later I met the author in person and was surprised because, instead of the expected old bearded misanthrope, I was faced by a smiling young man from Pula with a backpack and a sparkle in his eyes. When he drew Zero, he was still in high school; he funded the printing from his lunch pocket money.
My next major encounter with comics was high school related – this time with the stories of high school student Mima Simić, which I got on a floppy disk from a friend. They were fantastic – I had been looking for the right script for a long time. The author was studying in America at that time and I didn’t know her personally, but that did not stop me from drawing about ten comics based on her stories. These comics took 4-5 years to come into being, after which they were published by a major publishing house in Croatia AGM (Antun Gustav Matoš) together with the stories. My fee was €500 for five years work. That’s when I began to think more seriously about a comics collective and to organise activity on a project basis, which would enable me to approach sponsors for funding. That’s how my friends and I got Komikaze into being …
We can see that you are fluent in several dialects of the visual idiom, from web design to photography and comics. Why did you choose to focus on comics? What attracts you so much to this medium? You could easily just design websites and make a good living on it, yet you still insist on making some obscure comics as well…
Pfff, the term ‘design studio’ sounds really claustrophobic. It does not leave you much room to manoeuvre, plus, no matter how well it is paid, it is still underpaid. This is the eternal dilemma: well-paid work for a boss or precarious autonomy. For the time being (a good half of my life), I’m just swimming in low-fi improvisation and seeing for how much longer I can do that…
We read about you in Fibra’s anthology of female comics in the Balkans. Do you feel like a woman comics artist or simply as someone who makes comics? Is there such a thing as “female comics” and has gender any connection with comics at all?
I don’t think there is anything like that. There are such things as team power and methods to develop a scene that bring to the surface something that is itself prone to self-concealment and make it identifiable, defined and affirmed. I would rather not get into the debate of the role of women in comics history, society, and I don’t know what else. A few days ago, the European Parliament voted in favor of inequality of male and female occupations. The masks have fallen, the conservative right has got excited and our society has vomited yet another disgraceful decision. In this context, I consider such cultural projects important. Poetics and personal style have nothing to do with it.
You are active in the Croatian as well as the ex-Yugoslavian comics scenes, transcending the limits of ‘national scenes’. Is this a reflection of some broader need or is it mere curiosity? Does this mean that smaller scenes cannot be maintained by themselves and must therefore open outwards, or, on the other hand, perhaps that the former common comics scene actually never completely broke down into separate national scenes, but rather just hid in the underground and thus continued its cultural exchange across the region?
Borders are a perverse formation. I wouldn’t say that the underground scene is the only one to have a tendency to spread into a supranational identity. I’d sooner say that the backbone and creative lifeblood of culture grow and develop through curiosity and peer exchange.
Your work reflects a kind of technophilia; you obviously like to try out new approaches and media brought about by new technologies. What is the charm of such an approach and attitude towards the media?
I like to take advantage of every available means that makes it easier to reach my goal. Technology is a means, a medium through which you realise an idea. Otherwise we talk about technical issues. It is a known fact that technology has been developing very quickly in recent times and it has thus opened many doors that had previously been open only to a select few individuals. Technology to the people!
A long time before Komikaze there was a comics collective called Divlje oko (Wild Eye), which you founded with Dušan Gačić and which was active for some time but then disappeared. What kind of team was this, what did it work on, what did it create, who were its members and why did it stop working?
Divlje oko was an interesting mutant, but it had a schizoid head. We had some very interesting cartoonists: the now unfortunately already late Todorovski, then Magda Dulčić and Miroslv Nemeth, about whom I have not heard anything in about a decade, then Irena Jukić, Helena Anžlovar … Gačić and I did not agree on the concept of the group and its mode of operation. I was interested in networking, new media and social engagement, rather than an elitist lounge arrangement of a tightly knit group of artists.
What actually is the concept of Komikaze and Komikaze.hr? The website is probably a platform for distribution of the webzine Komikaze? Why did you decide to have a webzine? What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of web publishing? How does this relate to printed press? And, while we are at it, how did you number the issues of Komikaze? Number 12 came out in 2013, while there’s a total of 34 issues?
Despite the online and paper editions having the same name, they are considered as two different publishing bases, which complement each other. In terms of editions, the online version is leading, as it has just released number 35. The webzine comes out three times per year, every four months. The printed edition, which is the result of a year-round selection from the web and other incoming materials and also serves as a catalogue of exhibitions and memorabilia, is published once a year, in late October or early November.
The website and social networks are a platform for the distribution of online and paper editions, but at the same time Komikaze.hr is also a space that currently unites and connects a network of more than 200 published authors from 50 countries and comprises a virtual library/gallery/museum, which offers its visitors the opportunity to view for free more than 4000 published “panels” of comics.
Komikaze promotes authors, not issues of its own publications. Good drawing is good drawing, be it photocopied, pixelised or printed on silk. The Author and the Drawing have precedence over the medium and the issue. In Komikaze the hierarchy is clear, the arithmetic is banal and simple. The development of technology and social networks returned the author to the centre of attention, while turning everything else into a technological surplus. We live in a digital age; Gutenberg is already behind us. Excessive print costs and bookshop margins, expensive petrol, oversized muscles, these are just some of the obstacles on your way to the audience.
On the Internet, all these problems disappear. Free comics travel freely in all directions, they are accessible to everyone at anytime, they are interactive; at the same time, they attract new authors from all over the world, so the network of interesting people is constantly expanding and intensifying. Paper editions are a fetish, a thing of the past, an hommage to all the paper that we have flipped through from our childhood to the present day. When fresh, it smells good, but it also gathers dust on the shelves. If I could bet on the future, I would place all the money on the digital, its virtual ease and fluidity. It is publishing greed alone that hinders the progress and bright future of comics. The number of authors who work exclusively on digital comics is increasing. Comics festivals and exhibitions have mutated into more of a place to meet and exchange experiences than a place for groping/sniffing original comics. The traditional book medium is liberating itself and looking for new forms of display. Comics are transcending from bound volumes to conquering space on the Internet, video projections, street walls …
How do you balance the artistic and experimental aesthetics of Komikaze with their social engagement? Artivism à la Armanini?
Artivism is an interesting neologism because it transcends the tautology of the syntagma “art and activism,” since there is no art that would not be socially engaged, while even “unengaged art” is also a form of engagement. Many artists nevertheless do not ope-rate on this principle and perceive art as pertaining to the field of aesthetics, which is separated from the outside world as a kind of oasis of subjectivity, privacy and intimacy, but these usually end up in lartpourlartism. In the context of contemporary lexicon your question is rhetorical.
Who are you collaborating with these days and who are you publishing – can you namecheck anyone in particular?
The programme of the collective Komikaze, in the context of collective action for the organisation of (unarmed) resistance to the progressive globalisation of taste and the rise of institutionalised art production, represents a free and altruistic functioning of artists from different fields, connected by their independent and uncompromising stance, representing an alternative to the existing dominant artistic practice.
Ivana and Komikaze in 10 years time?
In the first twelve years of its existence the Komikaze network has published more than 200 authors and 4000 “panels” from 50 countries. In 10 years? The network will include 500 authors, 5000 new panels from 100 different countries … Number 22 will be released. All who draw, or who have never done so until just now, are invited to send their works to email@example.com.
As for me… I hope I will be drawing more. But we’ll see each other before that, won’t we?
A SHORT BIOGRAPHY
Ivana Armanini is a comics artist, illustrator, designer and photographer. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. In 2002 she founded the collective Komikaze, within which she is still actively working. The collective connects the local and international comics scene, deals with online and print publishing, organises comics workshops, exhibitions and media events in conjunction with various non-governmental organisations. Ivana has also tried her hand as a teacher, restoration specialist, journalist and book seller. She lives between Ljubljana and Zagreb.