critical TExts Comics

La schiena di Zehra e le altre. Prigione n°5

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Zehra Doğan’ın çizgi romanı “5 No’lu cezaevi”, iki dilden yayınlandı

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Zehra Doğan • La prison N°5, dessins évadés

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The obsessive normality of being special 

Komikazen 8° Festival internazionale del fumetto di realtà, Ravenna 2012

The obsessive normality of being special.

Wake up! Leave your infancy.

Immanuel Kant (1784)


If we had to find a lowest common denominator in attempts to represent and recount the History of Italy we could say that it lies in having continual recourse to the category of exceptionality. The exception of having become a nation state considerably late in life and without a shared language, the exception of the south, the exception of the mafias, the exception of bomb outrages, the exception of the Italian Communist Party and other such pleas. In considering itself special the normality of Italian historiography and its offshoots takes shape. I mean the forms of historical narration which may be traced back to the desire to narrate History but which employ forms different from scientific research. Such as comics.

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The traveller with binoculars - Aleksandar Zograf

Komikazen 6° Festival internazionale del fumetto di realtà, Ravenna 2010

Zograf, well-known not only to readers of comic strips, but also to those who have carefully followed events in the countries on the other side of the Adriatic, represents one of the best examples of how comics, contemporary history and reporting by pictures, can be correlated. The artistic work of this journalist-cartoonist is centred on the representation of reality, seen with the oneiric eye of a cartoonist who wants to represent himself as the candid eye of observation. This oneiric aspect and that of the research into the processes behind the development of dreams and the mechanisms implicit in them constitute one of the themes that is transversal to his work (as evidenced also by the book Psiconauta, also published in Italian).

Certainly Zograf became famous during the 1990s following the bombardment of his little town, Pancevo, and the letters and stories in comic form that were published in the USA and then also in Italy, while NATO was launching its so-called intelligent missiles. But Zograf had already been active since the end of the 1980s and thanks to this previous activity of his he had contact with numerous cartoonists around the world. 

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The Geography of the Confession. Igort’s Ukrainian Notebooks

Komikazen 6° Festival internazionale del fumetto di realtà, Ravenna 2010

Stories about hunger all reek of the same privation and the same sadness. When hunger strikes it suppresses the ability to react, it makes people passive and aggression is consumed in a trice, immediately overcome by a feeling of tiredness. When it comes to hunger the populace finds it difficult to single out a culprit: in traditional societies there generally prevails a feeling of being punished because of having been unfaithful to their gods/god, or a sense of unyielding impotence. The story of the famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine has certain peculiarities that contrast with this tragic scenario. Although historians are not unanimous on the theories relating to the Ukrainian genocide, the idea that the collectivisation enforced by Stalin was one of the principal causes of this famine called the Holodomor that mowed down a still uncertain number (between one and a half million and ten million), is nevertheless a fact recognised by all. Even the scholar Douglas Tottle, who was interested in the use of the Ukrainian famine as a propaganda tool of Nazi fascism, does not dispute the fact that the famine actually occurred and that it wiped out an awfully large number of people nor that the role of Stalinist policies was a determining factor. 

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The logic of the pictures. Logicomix 

Komikazen 6° Festival internazionale del fumetto di realtà, Ravenna 2010

I have participated at many presentations of the book Persepolis with Marjane Satrapi when it was published in Italy and I can testify that on each occasion there was someone who asked the author the same question: “Why, instead of producing a comic strip, did you not produce a book to tell this story?” Marjane took the tome in hand and repeated the same words: “But I have made a book.” Behind this apparent misunderstanding there is a definite cultural block , a sub-conscious and latent prejudice, that is that a comic strip even in the form of a book is still not adult enough to be considered as such. As though the form perforce becomes the content. As though the pictures automatically lower the quality and the reliability. The images betray, and yet images have always been the primary narrative form of the human race. And the comic strip is no more than a part of the evolution of narrative imagery. But it is as though the magical and subversive power, the uncontrollable force (even though we would need to think about that…) of the images condemn their usage and limit their ability to recount stories and discuss matters. 

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The reality comic between narrative depiction and journalism

Komikazen 6° Festival internazionale del fumetto di realtà, Ravenna 2010

Since the inception 6 years ago of Komikazen and of Mirada’s first exhibitions on Sacco and Satrapi, many things have changed in the multi-faceted and structurally “impoverished” world of the comic. 

The term “reality comic”, coined by us to define an object that we saw to be new and open to a different world of readers and authors, has become a subject capable of attracting the attention of publishers who are increasingly on the lookout for new forms of narrative, of magazines that are seeking presentation methods that differ from the real, of an all-consuming art market destined to become a global market, of NGOs and humanitarian organisations that are looking for new ways to recount the themes that form the heart of their work or for instruments for activities in the field.  

If on the one hand this undoubtedly constitutes something highly positive and a new frontier, at the same time the ability to read the medium at its highest levels is not always there: this poverty of the reading of the medium can be summarised thus. The comic is not approached like a language in its own right, what predominates being the “importance of the medium”, the evaluation of the seriousness of the theme, whereas the result does not always match the subject. Discussing poverty is not sufficient to make a good comic. Addressing an important matter is not sufficient to make the story work. Although on the one hand authors who have undoubtedly contributed to the creation of this scenario, like Joe Sacco, state that the comic’s scope for investigation is still an unexplored continent, on the other the results produced even by major publishing projects often fall down on a didactic banality that is hard to deny.

Nevertheless, the aspects certainly of most significance and quality that have emerged are not lacking. The “dialectic realism” approach capable of producing a critical process in the reader emerges in some productions, such as for example the collective book Gaza. A representation that distances itself, denouncing its own incapability to be a direct and significant witness, that does not however waver from a determination to establish a process of dismantling of a propagandistic realism, made up of simplifications and slogans. 


In a relationship of encounters and abandonments, the comic returns to the Narrative Depiction, the artistic current of the end of the 1960s that also began from an exhibition of ‘bande dessinée’ and that has plundered much from the comic. In coming out of the world of comic strip, we see the new potential of this new way of narrating coming together in the visual limitation of a style such as that of Auladell, that seriously tests traditional sequentiality in order to remain stationary in a narrative that is centred on just a single image.  Instead authors who in their own bibliography have stories that were conceived from the transfigurations of reality, such as Igort, have moved on to a work of painstaking purification of fiction in order to find a true voice in the transcription of the witnesses encountered on the journey. Whereas an author like Zograf, a forerunner of the genre and now a fully fledged member of the Balkan nouvelle vague of the ninth art, has perfected a narrative technique that visually blends tried and tested reality with dreams and imagination. Publishing phenomena such as Logicomix indicate, on the other hand, that there are no longer any subject matters that are beyond the reach of the comic. And the small window opened onto the world of NGOs that use the comic as a working tool in order to achieve ethical results, the changing of the reality in which they operate and not just its representation, is just a small foretaste of a world that is coming to be inhabited by a significant number of residents…

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Interview Matti Hagelberg 

Published in inguineMAH!gazine #11 – 2007

  1. Let’s introduce yourself…what about your storylife?

i was born 1964 near helsinki, studied in the university of art and design from 1985 to 1993. started my career as a professional comix artist 1992 with B.E.M. #1. B.E.M. #12 came out in 2004 and it’s called KEKKONEN. now i’m working on number 13 and 14

  1. May you tell us something about comic scene in your country? It seems to be alive and rich of stiles and culture…

  1. the first comic appeared in your country in 1925, I think it was Pekka Puup di Fogli: I suppose it was the first comic in the Nothern countries at all. Why there is this “old” tradition in Finland?

i dont have a clue. i dont think pekka puupää was the first comic in northern countries, at least it wasnt the first in finland.

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Calvinisms: the taverna, the castel and the motel of crossed destinies

Catalogo "Marjane Satrape ovvero dell'ironia dell'Iran"

inguineMAH!gazine #10 – year4 (2006)

To the end of the “Taverna” Macbeth says:

I’m tired to watch sun in the sky,

I wait for the collapse of the syntax of world,

when playing cards are stirred.

In 1968, Italo Calvino attends the conference of Paul Fabbri from the title “The tale of cartomanzia and the language of symbols”. Since that, the author begins to elaborate the plan of a novel that used tarot like a machine for telling stories: each tarot have a narrative function, each sequence can give life to a story, all of the stories crossing would have had to produce the novel. Calvino prefers to use Marseillaise tarot deck (1761), a cruder and popular deck designed by an illustrator called Fautier. At the first, the project reveals itself very difficult. He departs from the layout of the text, but he doesn't succeed in building, with the stories already prepared, a structure that convinces him, he won't succeed in getting a convincing disposition and he must be been satisfied with a precarious scheme. "... I felt that the game works only according to strict rules; It has been necessary an absolute rule of construction that conditioned the joint of each tale in the other, otherwise everything was free". The result of this first attempt is subsequently published in 1973 and dismissed by the author as imperfect: "If I persuade myself to publish "The Taverna of Cross Destinies" that is, above all, for freeing me of it. Still now, with the book in drafts, I continue to put again the hands on it, to get off it, to rewrite. When the book will finally be published, I’ll be free once for all, I hope. Nevertheless the idea of fiction as a combinatory process was never abandoned by Calvino and when, in 1969, Franco Maria Ricci proposes him to write on the tarots (the Visconti deck created between 1450 and 1468) he accepts, but it changes methodology: it already foresees the scheme when he begins to write the first tales. "It was easy to build the central intersection of the plot, “the magic cross”. All tales emerged from each others that were crossed among them, and I got so a kind of crossword made of figures rather than of letters, in which every sequence can be read in the two senses. In the turn of a week the plot of the Castle... it was ready to be published." "The Castle of the Cross Destinies" goes out therefore in art catalogue "Tarot. The Visconti Deck in Bergamo and New York”. Calvino’s research of perfect forms, geometric stylization, and binary opposition of combinatory fiction never exhausted and it pass through all his literary production. Moreover, the matter of games, Calvino’s involvement in Oulipo, connections of his writing with the symbol and with the diagram are all elements to comprehend his opera.

We know that he took back in hand the layout of “The taverna” to repair and modify it without never coming to resolve the puzzle. “I don't know how much time I am confined here, fixed eyes on the table covered of figures. I don't worry anymore the days that pass, what it happens out, the role that I could have ­-who knows why- in things that happen; I know that all the ways are excluded to me except this: to contemplate the combinations of these pictures. To contemplate: that is to understand to contain to admit among all the possible or thinkable things. Nobody has succeeded in understanding what I do till now. They say: "Then, have you discovered the secret of tarots? Can you read in my destiny?" [...] If I remark that I don't practise divination neither for me neither for the others, they don't believe me; as soon as their eyes are placed on series of ambiguous allegories, allusive rebus, it comes spontaneous the desire to establish a relationship between them and the destiny, between them and the continuous loss of themselves in time and life. It doesn't touch me.It is not the landslide of the crumbled fragments of existences that I contemplate in tarot, but something more important: all the marks without which the lived one and the vivibile could not be thought." In the conclusive note to "The Castle", Calvino confesses a certain bother for prolonged analysis of such medieval-renaissance iconografic repertoire. He would want to apply the same method to a modern visual material. He thinks about comics and he imagines therefore a third book, "The Motel of the cross destinies" that would have had to follow the precedents. But the writer stops himself to the formulation of the idea and he leaves to others the discovery of the combinatory rule, the narrative contrainte, the reconstruction of the diagram, the magic square, a forest of paths.

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Inguinal Hernia

Catalog "Marjane Satrape ovvero dell'ironia dell'Iran"
Published by Lizard Edizioni, 2003

Inguinal hernia: how a comic can turn into an illness and a panacea

Illnesses and anguish come in various kinds. They can afflict the body, the mind and the soul for those who believe in is an illness that has afflicted those who by destiny or need have come across this self-reproducing being that is growing on the net.

Obviously it is a site and as such has, in itself, all the characteristics of a continuing malignant tumour that cannot be stopped. Nobody says why it is called inguine, but everyone is talking about it as a physically present entity, in the Cartesian version of existence that grows and believes it can do without the creator. Those who have written about it have defined it as an organism and those who created it have named it using a term taken from anatomy. Its name ‘’ already attempts to overcome the immaterial nature of the virtual net and give it a constitution that requires flesh, blood and veins.


It is instead a growing organism


The development of this ectoplasm-like organism consists of the stories or rather the suggestions that arise from stories but the focal centre is the comic and the illustration. The explicit objective is to explore the potential of the net by means of the contribution of comic illustrators, comic-strip writers and visual narrators. The accumulation does induce a trance or a nauseous effect but rather calls to memory Dadaist experiments from the beginning of the nineteen hundreds, the linguistic experiments of Quenau and brothers. It recalls, evokes and even has another personality. Certainly it is in line with the capture of the user, the way out of vain passivity, but at the same time it is not an interactive game, it does not have a purely random growth, it does not have the voyeuristic vocation of comic writer’s chat. It is not a fetish for technology. In some way it has a direction.


I never think of the future. It always comes too soon. was born in the minds of four persons, firstly I believe as a child of the night, as the projection of a vigil for someone of whom we do not know; who will this person look like and take after, but simply as a suggestion born of an idea. In this sense it is truly experimental. One never knows how things will turn out at the end. Projects are launched in the net, those who wish to follow it and send material, then someone shut in a claustrophobic room surrounded by empty Coca-cola cans, a real techno-youth, assembles the images, creates the direction and thinks of a meaning. But the growth does not finish here because the contexts of using it change and therefore the visual frame and perception of things also change. Inguine enjoys being present at exhibitions, competitions and conferences on the Web. Thus it travels physically. It was at Sarajevo for the Biennial of Young Artists of the Mediterranean. It was not shy about showing its Horatio like nature of carpe diem among the skyscrapers crumbling under mortar fire. It was in Milan, from the ‘Open space’ lounge to the space occupied by the “Underground Happening”. It turned into wall stickers in railway stations, toilets of discos and telephone boxes. Inguine really does live in pixel form but paradoxically invokes the resistant nature of paper.

Horace took it to the baptism, but inguine has not come out of time and space. It does not think of the future but leaves this to the shamans of technological prediction. It is true that by inserting itself in the space of figurative representation it is forced to inhabit the temporal dimension, as Erich Auerbach has shown us. In the construction of frames, images, numbers and sounds temporal scanning implies a choice and choice implies a positioning of self in time of which the user becomes the object. But the reproductive and prismatic effect of the images that comes to us and are recreated in new sequences, apart from commercial intentions, guaranties a substantial dose of free choice by the machine of the construction system of the imaginary itself. In this sense Inguine is an agglutinant place, like the language of the Innuit; it has roots and themes that can be declined depending on the vocation of each single artist.     


Every development in language is also a development in feeling (T.S. Eliot)


So is now here, in an exhibition belonging to someone else and has called to arms other authors. It has decided on a theme for them, extrapolated from a page by Marjane Satrapi and has asked them to re-interpret it, without words. The results are interesting. In a handful of styles the attentive eye can identify nine different hands, all connected to the brain. The game is still a little Dadaist, but being a game it is necessary to stick to the rules. It is as if the story told by Satrapi were to leave her pages and continue to rove through out memory, creating new images and new stories. In brief, it is what happens when you read a good book or see a good film, except that here this process which is normally interior has been laid out and immobilised on paper. To each his own.

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The veil of Maya The veil of Maya

Catalog "Marjane Satrape ovvero dell'ironia dell'Iran"
Published by Lizard Edizioni, 2003

Satrapi is above all an author of comics. For us at least, before being Iranian, French and a citizen of the world, she is the troubled witness of a troubled history. What has charmed us most in her work is the distinctive style of her artistry, the dense effect of woodcuts that recall a certain type of graphic art from the late sixties.

Her autobiography has also crossed paths with other lines of enquiry that we have come across on other situations, for example the work in the net Bio.Graphic by UBQ. It is always the intersection of paths that give rise to a project and make an idea attractive to us.

However, the force of the autobiography lies in its being an all pervading sign of reality. The recounting of a person’s own life forces the reader to “believe” its truthfulness, even if it is coloured by the strong viewpoint of the narrator writing in the first person.

Julius Caesar avoided this excessively objective standpoint by telling his story in the third person. Satrapi not only narrates in the first person, but draws, in her excessively self-critical way, revealing her physical nature and highly personal projection of herself onto paper. The world, on the other hand, is represented as we represent ourselves.

The effect of reading this comic is not only the simple reading of captions linked to a particular story that the author is telling. It is unusual, so to speak, because the experience of exile and living in a society undergoing profound changes is not so rare. On the other hand Satrapi has a story that urgently needs telling. In its urgency it remains unique and unrepeatable but at the same time it suggests other stories that could even be out own. The empathetic process is quite natural.

Reading, something I experienced directly through the eyes of my twelve-year-old daughter, even if removed from the historical context in which the events take place, produces a result of great identification and charm. This is particularly the case for children who find themselves in that particular period of transition that some call pre-adolescence, an age group so ambiguous as to defy definition, in which a young person is neither child nor adolescent. They find themselves examining their growth, with concentrated attention on the recent personal past, on the state of having been children. “How did I get to this point? And where am I going?” they ask desolately, looking at a room still full of dolls now without life.

Besides opening unexpected windows on the viewpoint of women in the world forcibly subjected to Islam by contemporary Iran, Persepolis is the voyage of initiation for a child who is turning into an adult. As such, it has the same symbolic value as initiation to adulthood rites in fairytales.

For a comic, it acquires considerable interpretative depth of meaning. The time dimension prevails over the spatial dimension (the panels are minimal and details of the surroundings are limited). This may seem banal but there are many ways to tell one’s own life story. Marjane chooses to begin from a precise point, not her birth, but the imposition of the veil at school. From this precise moment the story develops along a linear time line. The phenomenon from which the story begins also lends its name to the title of this exhibition. It may seem an exaggeration to call on philosophical assonance with Schopenauer (and it certainly is an exaggeration), but the play on words came naturally. The veil of Marjane has the same gnosiological disparity as the veil of Maya, the image taken from Indian philosophy from the philosophy of Danzica in which the reality of things hides behind a veil and what we perceive is nothing but illusion and appearance. The phenomenon of a real veil for women hides, behind its unquestionable tangible existence, a more complex perception that is not easy to classify in terms of Manichean categories of good and evil. Satrapi is not the only woman whose work is characterised by irony. There are others from the Islamic world who also have put us on our guard against facile and convenient interpretations of the “phenomena”, the appearances and attribution of meanings to exteriors. A sociologist who uses the instrument of ironic interpretation to interpret her and our world is Fatema Mernissi. When asked, in The Harem and the West, what corresponds to the harem in the western world and where is it hidden, she answers, speaking as a sociologist, with a little story from which the answer is inferred: the harem in the West is a size 42.

Personally, I found this simple phrase enlightening; enlightening because I was first provided with a detailed and substantial description of the baggage necessary to understand the meaning of the harem and what is inferred by the use of this word in another culture. In this sense, the keen eye of another has made it possible for me to obtain a better understanding of myself and my world. Marjane too, when she tells of her own viewpoint her vision of Austria and the years lived in Europe, arrives at the same result. Her vision of the European world becomes, for the European reader, an unveiling of his or her own world seen through the eyes of another. It is known through metaphors, assonance but mostly by differences.

When speaking of Marjane a distinction is always made between ‘woman’ (and we are already on another planet with just this word), Iranian (crossing a new iron curtain) and author of comics (odd folk that cannot be taken too seriously). If the difference should become an instrument in aid of knowledge, then I agree with emphasising these definitions. If not, I prefer the indeclinable and universal word ‘artist’.   

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Clouds from beyond the borders

Catalog "Nuvole da oltre frontiera"
Published by Associazione Mirada, 2002

Clouds have always been in on the scene as what we call Western civilization was being created. From Aristophanes' Clouds (a parodic metaphor of the great philosopher Socrates)to the cumbersome clouds of Baroque, and very recent disillusioned Drifting Clouds of Aki Kaurismaki film. In Italian nuvole (clouds) are also the name given to those ever changing shapes which host words in comics (perhaps the twentieth century's most innovative form of communication, although earlier examples do exists).


Borders are lines that occupy our minds and our space. They provide the ABC of exile, of control and of the significance of the limit in contemporary culture. The cluster of meaning that spring up around this image immediately stand in a line in our imagination. Border signs exist to stabilize reality. The anguish that a territory with no limits would create must be defused by culture (a great anthropological intuition that Ernesto di Martino explored well): thus borders come into existence, marked by symbols. The most profound contradiction of human coexistence erupt around borders. But we are not here to philosophize and analyze, that's not our job. These are words and meanings around which images and experiences can be constructed. We are highlighting them in an attempt to explain how this exhibition with Joe Sacco came about.


Generally speaking, our projects spring from chance meetings that are always closely entwined with our lives. In this case it was the crossing of a physical border, the green line between Israel and the Occupied Territories. Upon our return, Gianluca Costantini (who creates comics) was waiting for me with Palestine. A Nation Occupied in his hand. The idea was a challenging one: to put together a project illustrating multiple perspectives on borders and on being “other” in the midst of those who are delimited by borders. And it was this aspect of Sacco's work that most enchanted us. Of course there is obviously his drawing skill too, his irony and self-irony (and indispensable ingredient unless you wish to turn into a missionary, teacher and/or rabble rouser), plus the narrative capability of the sequential art at its best. But what most attracted our attention and emerges from Sacco's works was his sense of responsibility for his own perspective, an awareness of his own limits and of his own border, which transcends the crossing of physical borders. The most impenetrable border are those within ourselves. Great Walls running across retinas and hearts.


The Nuvole da oltre frontiera project also takes advantages of R.A.M., which in addiction to an exhibition section, provides our guest artist with the opportunity to meet with young Italian artist. The project's virtual sound track – a concert with Radio Dervish – also originates from vibrations in sympathy with this investigation of perspectives, borders and (in their case) also languages. In a way they provide a link with Peshawar, Chiara Dynys' exhibition from last year. This network of cultural events that we have designed hints at ripples, and stones in a pond. Our hope is that something will remain of this “day”.

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