A Decade of Comixiade


Regarding comic books, I kept running into the color yellow over the past year. To be more precise, there were three particular printed items that were overwhelmingly yellow, with some slight variations on their covers.

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Prologue: The Year in Yellow

Of those items, I came across no less that two in Novi Sad, and one in Belgrade.

Let’s start off with the Belgrade Yellow. In November, the prominent Serbian publishing house Laguna, or rather its imprint StarWay, published the first volume of the renowned manga series Goodnight Punpun . Not only is this the premiere manga of this author (Asano Inio, for the uninitiated) in Serbia, but it’s also the first ever manga that Laguna has published. And of course, its covers are completely yellow. If you hadn’t done it already, I highly recommend reading this manga. Not only is the translation right on the money, but the printing is really well done and, most importantly, the story itself is insanely good.

Read: A Stalk or a Screw? An Issue #1 Review of the Maltese Comic Book Mini-Series Mibdul

The other two Yellows occurred during my stay at the 16th Novi Sad Comics Weekend that took place near the end of October. Regarding the visual identity of the festival, the program arch Other? Europe decided to go with an all-yellow aesthetic, thus the map of the festival, complete with illustrations by Aleksandar Zograf, was also entirely printed in that color. The same was true for the posters, promo material, and so on. Of course, other colors were present, but that yellow, it seemed, took center stage. Furthermore, this is the first Comic Book Weekend that, as far as I know, took place over the course of an entire week, with plenty of exhibits and events.

Nevertheless, we have the third Yellow to cover, also found in Novi Sad at the aforementioned festival. Namely, I ran into this particular Yellow when I was passing a booth operated by Wostok (Danilo Milošev), his wife, his ex-wife, and his ex-wife’s current husband. More precisely, there was another person next to these four, complete with a price list and a few alternative comic books for sale. Of course, a completely yellow, hardcover comic book anthology got my attention, one with a title in all black, written in lowercase letters – Comixiade. The comic was almost insultingly cheap for that level of print quality, partially black-and-white, partially in color.

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Of course, if one were to research Comixiade, one’s curiosity would lead them to the official Facebook page where a recent post states that Comixiade is officially dead and that the accompanying official website is thus shut down…officially. The related Instagram page contains an introductory message saying that Comixiade is a European network of writers and comics artists with their most active periods being between 2009 and 2012 and a brief stint in 2015. The crowning achievement of the longer creative period listed here is the very yellow book I intend to write about right here and now.

Chapter 1: Osvald

Comixiade, the movement, was officially-unofficially initiated by five individuals. The five in question are Guido van Hengel (also using the pseudonym Henotz), Thijs van Nimwegen, Aneta Bendakova, Vladimir Palibrk (also using the pseudonym Dzaizku) and Michał Słomka. Of these five names, at least two ought to be somewhat known to the Serbian comic book readers; van Hengel is one half of the duo that worked on the graphic novel Atentat, whereas Vladimir Palibrk is one of the key people running Pančevo-based Elektrika. Five people from four different European countries, united with a desire to work on comics featuring various topics: isolation, violence, social issues, the role of memory, and life on the streets. Of course, as the authors themselves would stress, the aforementioned themes are purposefully left open-ended and not entirely narrow so that the authors would have all the freedom to cover them in a way that suits their styles and sensibilities. And as it turned out, the project was a success. A range of 40-odd authors from 17 different countries made their mark within Comixiade, the comic, and considering I enjoy pissing people off, aside from the aforementioned five, I intend to list off all the authors that participated:

There are some recognizable names among these, of course. The folks from Zrenjanin are already well acquainted with Vladan Nikolić, while Boris Stanić is a relatively active name within the Serbian alternative comics scene, and is also the second half of the duo behind the Atentat graphic novel. The works of Maja Veselinović will always be recommended reading, and I’d be overcome with agony if I hadn’t had the same opinion of the comics authored by Dunja Janković. Bulgarian authors, in particular, will be acquainted with the works of Anna Tsocheva, considering she’s still headlining the Manga Academy in Sofia, a school teeming with talented young authors of exceptional quality. And naturally, no comic book authors’ list would be complete without locating a personal acquaintance or two, and Valia Kapadai and me have considered one another close friends for a fairly long time. Of course, I don’t have to specify who Aleksandar Zograf is, since I surmise you already know.

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Still, this chapter bears the name Osvald. The keen-eyed among you will notice that there is no such name in my autistic roll call of all those authors. That’s because Osvald is, in reality, a comic book character, and the single most prominent entity within Comixiade, at that; within 40 comics featured in the compilation, 28 of those include Osvald in a particular role, be it the main one or a cameo. What’s more, out of the four chapters within the compendium, the first one bears the name The Book of Osvald, mainly because it overwhelmingly contains comics featuring him.

So, who is Osvald? As Nimwegen claims in the chapter’s introductory text, Osvald was a character whom the five members of Comixiade came up with together. He was named after Oswald Spengler, and the team decided on that particular name because of (among other reasons) it being pronounced more or less the same in nearly all European languages. Osvald’s background is left purposefully vague and scarce so that it could be expanded organically, i.e. via the efforts of other authors. Broadly speaking, Osvald wears a striped shirt under a pair of suspenders and black bootstraps, is a journalist by trade, tends to travel a lot, smokes like Dennis Leary, has a pet pig named Carmen, and plays the clarinet. He’s ugly, not particularly well built, and his overall physical health is questionable at best. In short, he is the type of Everyman that all alternative authors need to use as a mouthpiece for the ideas they wish to share and discuss with their readers.

Chapter 2: Styles and Jams

The best attribute of Comixiade, both the short comics collection and the authors’ group that bears the same name, is the fact that a huge number of writers and artists collaborated and provided amazing results, all within a span of barely three years. From the Balkans to Scandinavia, from Western to Eastern Europe – 40 authors and 17 countries are nothing to sneeze at. And if we were to look at the photos from the various comic jams, such as the ones in Poznań, then Pančevo, and finally the Dutch island of Terschelling (all three comic jams took place in 2011), we can see the energy that flowed among and between the authors. One notices how much respect the writers, artists, and colorists have towards one another, though they are normally separated by thousands of kilometers, borders, cultural upbringings, and personal affinities in art. And though Osvald may have been the lynchpin for the majority of the aforementioned authors, he was far from being the only one.

I’ve mentioned earlier that the authors within Comixiade had touched upon various topics. If we see the titles of each chapter within this hardcover yellow treasure, we can roughly guess what to expect thematically speaking. The first chapter, The Book of Osvald, is self-explanatory. Here we get to see the formative process of Osvald as a character, as well as a litany of creative ways of depicting his life, quite literally from his birth to his death. The second one, Violent Encounters, takes violence as its central theme, in any context of the word itself. I’m leaving out individual examples on purpose since I want you to buy this comic book compilation and read them yourselves. Every Man is an Island is, other than being the title of the third chapter within Comixiade, a central theme that came about spontaneously while the authors were attending the jam at Terschelling. And let’s be frank, what’s more wonderful than doodling comics and hanging out within an area surrounded by the ocean on all sides? And finally, as the fourth chapter title, we have the Unheard Voices, yet another broad topic, but with an activism hint to it. In short, a wide palette of motifs that birthed an equally wide palette of results.

The styles are quite varied within Comixiade, the book. Within certain comics, we see somewhat rougher sketches, with characters and locations being simplified on purpose in the most brutal way possible, like for example the works of Stanić and Chaushova. On the other hand, Wawryniuk and Vairo have a somewhat more subtle, more complex approach to both the narrative and the character design. Draganov and Piksa, as well as the aforementioned Vairo, love experimenting, and as a result we get a few completely atypical pieces of sequential narratives, as opposed to completely linear stories which also find their way in this short comic collection. A few of the comics were also printed horizontally, which does tend to affect the flow of reading, but isn’t that big of an issue generally speaking.

And since we’re discussing issues with Comixiade, I’ll present one that isn’t particularly serious. More precisely, it isn’t really an issue per se, more like a waste of a potentially good opportunity. Namely, I should stress that this comic book collection was published in English. The publisher is Platform Spartak from The Hague, Netherlands, while the printing was done in Belgrade, Serbia, thus making this project international even on a technical level. However, the project included authors from Czechia, Poland, Lithuania, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Greece, Belarus, and a host of other countries. And though English is one of the most widespread languages on the planet, a huge percentage of people living within the listed countries (including the comic book fans) do not speak English. I would personally love to see Comixiade reprinted in all of the languages from each individual country where the original authors came, even if the print runs were as small as 100 books per language. Still, the logistics behind this desire of mine is rather complex, especially at the moment when it has been over ten years since this comic book collection came out.

Epilogue: Towards Greener Pastures

With December of 2022 well under way, the landscape of comics has changed quite a bit, both locally and continentally. For instance, during the early 2010s, less-covered topics such as women’s rights in the modern world. LGBT issues, political turmoil and the like were not that prevalent in public discourse. Now they are everywhere, to the point of annoyance. Furthermore, the comic book markets were a lot narrower and more subdued than nowadays. Right now even small countries, like the ones in the Balkans, can publish massively popular world-renowned comics in decent print runs (the aforementioned Punpun is the most recent perfect example of that). And of course, a lot of the authors who were alternative creators and outsiders back then are now firmly steeped into the mainstream, be they college professors, professional painters, experienced writers, translators, or political activists. In short, Comixiade, the book, has aged in a certain way, so it’s no wonder that it welcomed its tenth year of existence with a slow, unnoticed death.

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However, it wouldn’t be fair to the history of the medium not to mark this decade in some fashion. This quaint yellow book definitely deserves a spot on anyone’s shelf, and the works of authors within its pages have more than earned the attention of the readers. Because when it’s all said and done, Comixiade is more than an anthology of alternative comics in Europe at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, more than a collection of photographs and essays, thank-you-notes and written info. Comixiade is a testament of earnest friendships which gave birth to many different interesting stories, which gave some authors the nudge they needed to push onward towards greener pastures. Finally, Comixiade is that one hidden gem that will seem odd to you the first time you run into it, but then it turns out that you can’t keep your eyes away from it – nor would you want to, of course.  

By Ivan Veljković, December 16th 2022

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