Home Art Forgotten here, Italian comics enjoy cult status in former Yugoslavia

Forgotten here, Italian comics enjoy cult status in former Yugoslavia

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Alan Ford, a 1960s Italian comic strip that follows hapless secret agents as they battle a bizarre group of villains, including one who steals from the poor and gives to the rich, was intended as satire.

But for fans of what was then Yugoslavia, the show’s dark comedy and rogue characters felt like an accurate depiction of their everyday reality.

Created half a century ago by Italian cartoonists Lucianno Secchi and Roberto Raviola, known by their pen names Max Bunker and Magnus, the comic strip still enjoys cult status in the Balkan countries that emerged from bloody collapse of socialist Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Based in New York, the series offers, according to various interpretations by its fans, a critique of aspects of American society such as capitalism or racism.

Yet the books were never translated into English and failed to reach a global audience.

And while the comic’s popularity faded over the years in its native Italy, in Yugoslavia it was an instant hit whose influence seeped into pop culture, remaining a landmark in music and cinema decades later.

The comics themselves have also stood the test of time, with new editions still regularly printed across the region.

In Belgrade, an exhibition at the History Museum of Yugoslavia dedicated to the series features original drawings and rare editions of the comic.

It is “very rare” for a foreign cultural product to become “an inseparable part of the cultural heritage of the recipient country”, said Lazar Dzamic, author of a book on Alan Ford’s success in Yugoslavia, at the opening of the exhibition.

– Antiheroes –

The comic features a band of misfit secret agents, including the titular Alan Ford, who operate out of a flower shop.

Led by a nameless, ageless, wheelchair-bound character known as Number One, the gang of antiheroes includes the kleptomaniac British nobleman Sir Oliver, a hypochondriac known as Jeremiah, and the short-tempered Bob Rock. small size.

Dzamic, whose book is titled “Flower Shop in the House of Flowers,” says Alan Ford’s sensibility resonated in the Balkans where surrealism is “not an art form, but rather a mode of life”.

Readers faced with overwhelming bureaucracy and widespread corruption recognized parts of their society in Alan Ford’s satire, he told AFP.

“Latin America gave the world magical realism, while our gift to the world is documentary surrealism. For us, it is a natural form of social organization.”

Serbian novelist and musician Marko Selic cites comics as a major source of inspiration for his work, particularly in terms of social criticism.

“It’s a catalog of characters from our real world. We are more likely to recognize our reality somewhere and laugh about it, rather than sit down and cry,” Selic told AFP.

– Erase swastikas –

A key factor in Alan Ford’s success in the Balkans is the agile work of translators Nenad and Davor Brixy, a father and son who managed to transpose the distinctive Milanese humor into the local language, creating a new form of slang.

According to Davor Brixy, the Yugoslav communist authorities forced them to modify certain satirical drawings to remove sensitive political references.

“We had to remove the swastikas but we were able to leave the Nazi uniforms. The American soldiers had to lose their insignia, and the Russians their stars,” Brixy told AFP.

“At the text level, we did not need more interventions, because the author’s style of insulting politicians, the army or the police was subtle,” he added.

Max Bunker, one of the creators of the comic strip, refused to speak to AFP but has already recognized the fame he enjoys in this corner of Europe.

“I must say that the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, of Serbia, of Croatia, of all of the former Yugoslavia, are very intelligent because they very quickly understood my sense of humor and accepted it”, – he told Al Jazeera in 2014.

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