Sunday, January 30, 2011

Story behind the picture 3

Mighty Gandalf

While taking  a little rest from writing the demanding Flashback posts, I  am going to tell you the story of my Gandalf painting.
After the completion of the frustrating and literarily painful King Arthur book project at the beginning of 1999 (as mentioned in a previous post), I decided to heal my “wounds” through the work on a few pictures that I wanted to do just to please myself. One of these paintings was Gandalf, that would later on become one of the most important paintings I did until now. After the picture was finished I had the feeling of finally crossing the invisible line and stepping  onto the next level of my artistic development, and by doing so convincing myself that, after all, I am able to make a good painting.
Gandalf painting was first published in Spectrum 7, page 171 -  chapter Unpublished. After that it was used by Verkerke Reproducties and published as a poster. But, the publication of the picture in the Spectrum annual was a turning point. Soon after that, I was approached by a collector, a couple from the US, who were interested in buying the piece. At first I  did not want  to sell the painting because I liked it and wanted to keep it near me for a little longer. Eventually, and after a good portion of thinking and reflecting, I decided to sell the painting. Everything went smooth and well and soon the new owners received the original painting. They were so happy with it that they invited me and my wife for a visit. We accepted and in August 2001 went to the US, for the first time. Also for the first time in my life I was finally able to see the original paintings of my artistic idols and “teachers”. I saw the originals of Norman Rockwell, Frank Frazetta, Howard Pyle, N.C. Whyet and alike and it was a revelation.  
However, the owners of Gandalf painting turned to be extremely kind people and soon we became friends, good friends, friends for Life, I dare say. This friendship enriched our Life in many different ways and we are honestly very grateful  for the opportunity given to us, by the mysterious destiny, for getting to know them.  We visited many beautiful and inspiring places together and even attended the Millennium Philcon – 59th World Science Fiction Convention , held in Philadelphia, where Gandalf got the Judge's Choice Award.

Gandalf, oil on Masonite, 50 x 70 cm, 1999

My wife and I visited our new friends again in 2005, when we attended the firs Spectrum Show at the Society of Illustrators, in New York. The Legend of Steel Bashaw 9 was included in the exhibition.
We saw each other for the third time in 2010, after they convinced me to attend the Illuxcon show. At first I refused because I could not see the point in me shipping many of my paintings over Atlantic Ocean, paying for all the costs, while remembering that my piggy bank was quite meagre at that moment. After all,  my work was pretty unknown to the American public, I thought, and that made the prospects for selling a painting quite insignificant. But, when our friends generously offered to cover almost all our costs, and after the organizers of Illuxcon, also generously, offered me their own Spotlight table at the Showcase Event, (all other tables where already sold out), we decided to accept. The Illuxcon 2010 show turned to be my breakthrough on the US fantasy illustration market and one of the most important and elating events of my entire career.
Some of you who attended the Illuxcon show where able to see Gandal painting “in person”, for it was exhibited on our booth.
So,  after all, and as far as I am concerned,  Gandalf has proven to be  a true wizard, and a great one, indeed! He infused not only my and my wife’s life with true magic, but the lives of other people as well, which is a truly wonder-full thing!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Flashback 3

Start of the Art career

“In (his book/drama) Faust Goethe (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749 – 1832) provides a Prelude on the stage in which the manager who is responsible for the finances talks with a poet-playwright  and  ‘a cheerful person’:  one who is going to be in the audience  and wants a good evening’s entertainment. Three perspectives are developed: theatre (illustration art) as a business; writing (illustrating/painting) as the creation of the ideal; and plays (illustrated books/illustrations/paintings) as a form of entertainment. These characters dispute among themselves without reaching any resolution. They have divergent aspirations that, somehow, have to be contained in a single work. If the play is to succeed it has to turn a profit, has to be enjoyable and (or) stimulating, and yet has to be a vehicle for the more noble ambitions of the poet (artist/illustrator) …” *
When I started my career back in 1981, I was just a boy who did not even dream of the existence of  such questions and dilemmas, let alone to let them resonate in my artistic pursuits. I was a simple, common and relatively shallow teenager (shallowness being one of the trademarks of youth), whose life consisted of going to school, drawing comics, playing football with friends, going after the girls and drinking Coca-Cola.  Such philosophical questions, as those above, had not yet dawned on my Art horizon. The only concerns I had at that time in connection to art, were how to draw things as good and as convincing as possible. The problems of anatomy, proportions, composition, inking, the  balance between black and white; these were the things that caused my headaches.

Detail from unpublished comic

Nowadays the things are different – the questions that penetrate deeper into the art flesh and tend to come closer to the essence and the purpose of art making, are preoccupying me lately and causing a new sorts of headaches.  I know I am not the only one out there who struggles trying to find the balance between those opposing demands within the “business” of Art, especially the illustration art,  as presented in the Prelude to the Goethe’s play. I find this particular dilemma being quite crucial these days, having in mind the current aspirations of the modern (western) neo-liberal, turbo-speedy consumption, profit-leisure seeking society – wherein the instant-fast living-special effects attitude towards Life seem to be prevailing above the time-consuming, hard to reach, noble ideals of the past.
The absence of these kind of heavy thoughts,  and the simplicity of my artistic aspirations, made my life as a fledgling artist clarifying and light, giving the youth’s enthusiasm, joy and elation the free hand.
However, in the eighties Yugoslavia was a kind of “in-between” country. Although geographically and culturally a part of the East Europe, the Balkans, it did not belong to the Eastern Bloc Countries. It was also not a part of the Western Bloc either, but rather an independent country that had connections with both sides, and that was ruled by Tito and the communist party. It had a strong social attitudes, where the individual, the worker,( for it was a land of the proletariat),  was well protected in terms of the social care, education and job. It was generally speaking a safe country (I never had to lock my bike when leaving it on the street, and the door of our house was almost never locked either). All in all, you had a reasonably good life as long as you did not oppose the political system. In this atmosphere of relative freedom, the Art and culture prospered.

Pictures from unpublished comic '90 / '91

The eighties also marked the golden age of the Yugoslav comics. During that period many talented comic artist emerged and matured. After Yugoslavia fell apart in a bloody civil war at the beginning of the nineties, many of these exceptional artists left the country, settled themselves elsewhere and gradually started to work for major European and US comic publishers. More about them in a future post.
A healthy and reliable podium for emerging talent was offered by a few big Yugoslav publishing companies.  One of the best, the most vital and enduring of all was Marketprint, from Novi Sad. Their most famous comic magazine was, and still is, Stripoteka.  The best European and US comics, as well as the comics made by Yugoslav artists, where published in this legendary comic magazine.

As far as I am concerned, my career officially started on June 9, 1981, when the first three strips of my comic series named Krampi was published in Stripoteka, issue 654. This was a marvelous achievement for a boy of less than 16 years of age. My little comic series was being published within the greatest comic magazine in the country, and along with the comics of the legendary US and European comic creators. When that issue of Stripoteka was published,  I was in the seventh heaven! It was as important to me, as the great Goethe’s Faust was important to the Western culture.

Stripoteka, issue 654 - June 9, 1981

For the next 10 years I published a number of short comics, as well in Stripoteka as in the other Marketprint’s comic magazines.

Krampi, the first three strips, 1981

Krampi '81 / '82

Kreker Kid, 1982

Čuvar Istine (Guardian of the Truth), my
first comic drawn in the realistic stile,1983




Esmeralda, 1986

Esmeralda, '86

Esmeralda, '86

Esmeralda, '86

In 1983 Marketprint obtained the rights to produce the licensed Tarzan comic books, that have been previously done by the Spanish. The team of artists and scenario writers was formed that would, in the next 7 years, produce more than 1600 comic pages, about 100 episodes – 16 pages each. In the mid-eighties I too became a member of the Marketprint Tarzan team. Because I studied painting at the Art academy at that time, I had to divide my time between my studies and drawing comics. Therefore I produced only 4 episodes (64 pages and a few cover illustrations).


'86 / '87









In 1991 I started to work on my firs, and the last, full size comic book, Kanoo. The synopsis of the story was written by Sergio Aragones, and I drew the comic for SAF publishing house and agency from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Due to the already mentioned civil war, I did not finish this comic book until 1992, after my arrival to the Netherlands. It contains 44 pages and it has never been published. Kanoo was the last comic I did. After its completion I decided to abandon comic art and to further express my creative urges through illustration and painting. So it happened that, in 1992 one circle had been closed, and the new one had begun.

Pages from Kanoo, '91 / '92

* From the book Love, Life, Goethe – Lessons of the imagination from the Great German Poet, by John Armstrong; except for the inserted words in brackets.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Flashback 2

My uncle
I had a wonderful childhood. The village with its' dusty streets, the outstretched fields that surround it, the river – this was my Play Station. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were my imaginary comrades - their Mississippi was my Danube. I had a great many good friends among the trees and the animals, boys and girls, but perhaps the greatest friend of all was my uncle. At that time he was an open-minded vagabond and a poet, as all true sailors are.  He sailed the treacherous Danube waters in search of the water nymphs, who would show him the magic stone beneath which he would find his life’s meaning. In the meantime he earned money by  digging up the gravel from the river’s bottom, for the gravel was in great demand. He would spend two weeks on the Danube waters, and then he would return to the village and stay for another two weeks at the grandparents’ place, for he lived there, just as I did.  These two weeks spent in his company were one and all joy and elation for me.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela (Finnish), Boy and the crow, 1884, oil on canvas 86 x 72 cm
He taught me many useful things; like how to play all sorts of games, how to hunt and fish, and how to make various things and toys, such as bow-and-arrow, a sling or a flute. I especially loved the sling. In time I grew into a master sling-shooter. No bird was safe when I was around with my self-made sling hanging from the pocket of my dusty trousers. I knew that the choice of ammunition, and that will say, the small pieces of gravel, was crucial for the success of the hunt, so I took a great care of that part of the skill, when collecting the stones from the street.  I particularly enjoyed the feeling that a hunter experiences when he spots the prey. Crouching towards it is an important  aspect of the art of sling hunting as well, and I was good at it as any North American indian when approaching the buffalo herd on his knees or when trying to catch a great eagle.

Kanoo, page 1 and 2, 1991, unpublished

 The sling hunting was an important part of the business of being a village child back in those golden days. I collected many trophies in the form of wild pigeons, sparrows, the street electricity bulbs and a few broken windows, mostly neighbor’s. Everything went smooth and well until one day when I shot down that poor swallow. On that day, my nephew and I were racing in a cart through the middle of the street, when I spotted a little swallow standing on the electricity wires. Small target, big distance, fast moving cart – the challenge was too tempting for a sling champion, so I took my sling and released the little stone.  I saw the “bullet” flying in a masterfully anticipated curve towards the little swallow. “Puff!” – the bird went down. We stopped the cart, I jumped out of it and ran towards the spot the bird fell on. I saw her laying on the ground but could not detect any traces of the lethal blow of the stone. I took her in my hands and she was still warm. When I turned her around to examine the other side of her body, I saw that a half of her head was gone……For a long, deep reaching moment, I stared at the empty little skull. My sight became hazy and soon the tears came out of my eyes, dripping on the lifeless corpse of a small innocent bird…After that I never shoot another bird in my life again. Neither I forgot that sad situation when I finally realized that I took away something I was not able to give back – a life.  Also I knew I did not kill it because I had to feed myself with, but just for the sake of fun. From that moment on I was to express that deep primeval instincts of a hunter exclusively through shooting as many bottles and cans as I possibly could.

Henk Helmantel (Dutch), Apple finch, 1996, oil on wooden board 20 x 26 cm

Perhaps the most precious thing that I inherited from my uncle was - oh no, not a magic ring, as some of you might think - but the Love for the Comics. He was a passionate comic reader and he introduced it to me. By doing so he introduced Art into my life and thereby awoke my life’s vocation. Me and the comics – it was love at first sight , a true  Love Story. It was a kind of addiction that would later on  dominate my life for more than a decade.
In those early days I did not read the comics, I looked at the pictures only. I was particularly enchanted by the comics about Lucky Luke, the Wild West pistol hero who was quicker than its own shadow, and whom I copied  often, until I was able to draw him out of head. As a child I was often ill. The cause of my troubles were my tonsils, that were often as big as the walnuts and as red as the early cherries.  Therefore, while my friends played outside I had to stay indoors. I spent most of the time drawing. Many sheets of paper have been filled with all sorts of drawings, ranging from the fighting scenes of the Vikings and the Indians, the ancient Greek warriors, characters  from Disney comics,  Asterix and Obelix and already mentioned Lucky Luke. Only, I had that strange habit to scribble all over the finished drawing, regardless of whether the results were pleasing to me or not! When my grandfather once asked me why I do it, I explained that it was the smoke from an explosion – that every drawing ended up in an explosion! The moment I spoke that out I felt ashamed because I knew I was lying. The truth was that I absolutely did not know why I had to scribble over my finished drawings over and over again, and I felt bad about it. I guess it was a kind of compulsory behavior I was not able to resist. Till this day I did not understand why I did it.
Anyway, although “scribbling” along a lot, it was not before I was about twelve years old that I started to draw my own comic books.








As for my dear uncle – he died in 1999 from a tumor in his brains and unfortunately, I believe, without finding that magic stone. May his soul rest in Heaven.

In the next post: Start of the Art career