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My Five Most Influential Croatian Comic Book Artists

Goran Sudžuka is an acclaimed Croatian artist who started off working in animation before he began working in comics, as well, initially with the great Darko Macan. Sudžuka has done a number of series for DC’s Vertigo line of comics, including being the regular alternate artist on the award-winning and extremely popular Y the Last Man series with writer Brian K. Vaughan. Recently, he worked on Wolverine with writer Jason Aaron. – BC

Although this is my list, I’m sure you would find the same names on most such lists made by Croatian artists of the younger (forty-five and below) generation.

But first, let me give you a brief history of Croatian comics.

Croatia was part of Yugoslavia from its creation in 1918 to its end in 1990. Placed in the southeast of Europe, but also stretching into central Europe and with a long Mediterranean coast, Yugoslavia was always between the East and West and never quite belonged to either. Between two world wars, Yugoslavia was (at least in attempt) a western oriented capitalist country, so, as comics appeared in the United States, they soon became popular in Yugoslavia, as well. These were mostly Disney’s and classic newspaper strips. In the thirties an increasing number of domestic artists started working on the ever more popular novelty, Zagreb and Belgrade being the most important centers for the production and publication of comics.

After the Second World War, Yugoslavia became a communist country and for a while comics were considered a relic of “rotten capitalism”. Things settled down somewhat in the sixties and Yugoslavia opened up to the west. Successfully balancing between the Eastern communist block and the capitalist West, it let in cultural (and commercial) Western products like movies and music. Comics were no exception. Along with the economy at that time, the comic scene bloomed with a thousand blossoms.

Being hugely popular at the time, newspapers and magazines were publishing American and British comics alongside the best of the Franco-Belgian production. At the same time there was a lot of support for domestic artists and many of them were as popular (if not even more), productive and respected as the international ones. Comics became an accepted form of widely popular entertainment.

In the seventies, the production of comics (and with it their diversity) grew even more. Newspaper stands were swamped with all kinds of comic publications. Comics from the Italian publisher Bonelli were the most popular, despite their rather low quality. Alan Ford, another Italian comic (but not published by Bonelli) was a phenomenon in itself being even more popular in Yugoslavia then in its native country. Asterix and Lucky Luke albums were published and sold in tens of thousands of copies. However, the most common were comic magazines that published episodes of different comics in a single issue, usually in a weekly rhythm. There you could find classics like Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and George McManus’ Bringing Up Father or Alex Raymond’s Rip Kirby alongside with Jean Giraud’s (Moebius) Lieutenant Blueberry; Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon and Franquin’s Gaston.

John Buscema’s Conan, Silver Surfer and Thor were one of the most popular. Hermann Huppen’s Bernard Prince, Comanche and Jeremiah, as well. Batman, Superman and Daredevil were some of the regularly published superheroes. No X-men, though.

Dozens of Franco-Belgian authors were obligatory content in those magazines; Michel Regnier (Greg), Jean-Michel Charlier, Uderzo, Goscinny, Willian Vance, just to name a few. It wasn’t only American and French comics that were published and popular, but Italian as well. Apart from Bonelli’s authors, there were Hugo Pratt, Milo Manara, Sergio Toppi, Dino Battaglia and many others. Spanish and Argentinean masters were also frequent guests on the pages of those magazines – Alfonso Font, Jose Ortiz, Jordi Bernet, Alberto and Enrique Breccia …

Most of these magazines were sold in hundreds of thousands of copies, and this in a country of roughly 20 million citizens, most of them working class (as it should be in proper socialist countries). They were cheap, usually printed in black and white and available at all news-stands. I don’t remember not being able to buy them because I couldn’t afford it. I would pick up the ones I liked and there were always several available every week!

At the beginning of the seventies, the domestic scene fell behind a little. Import was overwhelming and comics were too often viewed as pulp. Things changed at the end of the decade with Yu-Strip Magazine and Novi Kvadrat (New Square, actually New Panel). Yu-Strip Magazine was, as indicated in the name, a magazine dedicated to promoting, producing and publishing domestic comics. Novi Kvadrat was a group of young comic artists. Both, in their own ways, brought freshness to the Yugoslavian comic scene, as well as some respect from “official” cultural circles. They inspired (Novi Kvadrat) or supported (Yu-Strip) a whole new generation of comic artists during the eighties. I was a teenager then and I remember dreaming about becoming one of them, I couldn’t care less about an international career.

But the eighties were also a very turbulent time in Yugoslavia, which was opening up to the West, but at the same time suffering a huge economic crisis. Comics became more expensive, due to the galloping inflation, with a new price tagged to each new issue. As if that were not enough, due to the shortage of printing paper comics lost first the weekly and then the monthly rhythm. The end of the country we were living in and of the comic scene we knew and loved was looming over our heads.

Although there are lots of international artists that I admire and who had a big influence on my work, I’ll make a list here of Croatian artists. Some of them you’ve probably never heard of, some you might know. Either way, I would recommend that you make an effort to explore and find out more about their work [For each artist Goran listed, I picked out three pieces of art by that artist. -BC].

1. Andrija Maurovic

Born at the beginning of the 20th century, Maurovic was a true pioneer of Croatian comics. Starting his career in the 1930’s, he immediately became the most popular author in Yugoslavia between the world wars. His early work was heavily influenced by silent movies. From the design of the characters, gesticulations and face expressions to the framing of the panels – everything was cinematic decades before that comparison became usual in American comics. He survived Second World War and created lots of new comics in the sixties. With more experience he enriched his visual style with deep, heavy inking and proved himself a master of shadow play. In his late years he gave up working on mainstream comics and turned to an ascetic lifestyle that excluded the luxuries of running water and electricity, painting huge oil paintings with apocalyptic motifs and hardcore porn comics for his own pleasure. A truly unique figure in the whole comic industry, not just in Croatia.

2. Ivica Bednjanec

Starting his career in the late fifties, Bednjanec himself wrote all the comics he drew. Highly productive, he made thousands of pages of beautiful black and white comics largely published in youth magazines officially distributed in schools. His work was inevitable reading for every kid in Croatia for decades.

3. Igor Kordey

Probably the most productive Croatian artist of all time. His early short works were groundbreaking. His graphic style and radical storytelling influenced a whole new generation. But he went further from there, proving himself capable of working in mainstream comics and keeping a unique, raw, naturalist style, his inspiration being drawn from artistic fields far wider then comics itself.

4. Darko Macan

I don’t know anyone who understands and loves comics as much as he does. Although mostly known as a writer, Darko is an artist himself. Even more – he produces, publishes and translates comics, as well as writes about them. We started working together at the beginning of my career and he deserves a lot of credit for the kind of artist I am today. To see how he tells a 24 page story without a single word, check out his 24 hour comics.

5. Edvin “Eddy” Biukovic

Pure genius! Except being one of my best friends, he was also the biggest influence and support during my formative years (read: from 15 to 30 years of age). Eddy’s passion and understanding of what’s important in making comics was unprecedented and if it wasn’t for his premature death at the age of thirty, I know that today he would be among the ten best comic artists of our time. Of course, his best work was done in collaboration with Macan.

I hope this list will serve as an introduction to the exploration of the Croatian comic scene and help new readers discover some gems outside the mainstream comic industry.

35 Comments

Very cool list Goran, thanks. Biukovic and Macan’s Grendel Tales series, Devils & Deaths, is one of my favourite comics of all time and is actually the first comic I lend non-comic folks (before Watchmen, before Dark Knight). I agree that Biukovic would have been one of the all-stars of the comic world, had he survived, and I’m very sorry that you lost a friend so young.

Great list, great artists, great works.

I can only agree that Biukovic would be a top comics star, if not for his untimely death.
I love his work on Human Target with Peter Milligan, but the stuff from Star Wars look great too.

Igor Kordey and Darko Macan are also pretty neat. And let’s not forget Goran Parlov who has a fantastic sense of comic book art.
I haven’t known Bednjanec and Maurovic before, but that’s some compelling art!

Oh, and I really really like your art, too, Mr Sudzuka :D
Croatian = quality in comics.

Goran this was a great read! I hadn’t even known about these guys until I read this. Will have to go on a book hunt now. I tried catching up with you at New York Comic Con but never found ya, thanks for the great read!

Croatian artists are great. Biukovic’s art was simply beautiful. The artists on this list (en ath same author) are amazing. In my opinion two other great great great artists from Criatia are Danijel Zezelj and Esad Ribic!

“(and the author of the text itself)”

This was really cool and informative.

RIP Biukovic, one of the best storytellers ever imo.

stefano gaudiano

May 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Thanks, Goran – great to get some information about comics east of the Adriatic.

Great post and great list, Goran. It’s especially nice to see late, great Ivica Bednjanec getting some attention in a more global forum – he was such an amazing and diverse comics creator.
And your observation about the popularity of Alan Ford in the former Yugo republics brought a smile to my face. When I first came to Croatia and began making friends who found out I was a comics geek, I often remember being asked what I thought of Alan Ford – to which my response would be “wha-huh?” They just couldn’t believe anybody, anywhere in the world, could be a comics fan and not know about about Alan Ford.
In conclusion, I have to say that my own list of top 5 Croatian comic book artists would include the name Goran Sudzuka…

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm

I agree with Mr. cich.
His list is the same as mine.

Loved Edvin’s two Grendel Tales mini-series, damn shame that he wasn’t able to to become the superstar artist that he was surely going to be.

My favorite artist of all time is easily Igor Kordey. It was love at first sight when I saw his cover for Soldier X #1. A few years ago I read about him and his history with the US comic industry. I can only hope we can get more pages out of him. Personally, it would be a dream come true if some of those pages included him and Macan on my favorite character Cable.

Man, I miss Edvin Biukovic. Easily one of the best comic artists of his time who would almost certainly be a superstar at Marvel and DC if not for his untimely loss.

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm

@ Toneloak: I met Mr. Kordey once. He used to pick up his comics at the same place where I pick up mine. This was some years back when he was drawing Soldier X at the time. He had moved on since then.

I read his THE SECRET HISTORY series nowadays.

Macan and Biukovic changed comics for me forever when I read their Grendel stuff. They’re ridiculously brilliant, and you’re right: had Eddy lived, right now he’d be a goddamned comics superstar.

Man, I love Igor Kordey’s art! In the oughts he was a workhorse at Marvel for a little while, and I always felt pissed off about how he was treated there. Dude was churning out a couple of books a month, and was the go-to fill in on Morrison’s New X-Men for a while while managing to keep a monthly schedule on Soldier X (which was a beautifully drawn book) at the same time (written by Darco Macan). I remember one issue of New X-Men that he reportedly drew in only one week because of a scheduling screw up by Marvel. He caught flack for the art in that particular issue and became a pariah to fans on the internet, and marvel didn’t keep giving him work after that (at least that’s how I remember it going down. If anybody knows the real story I’d love to know). Basically he pulled of a heroic feat, saved the monthly shipping schedule of X-Men, and was crapped on for his trouble. Always bummed me out. I hope he’s doing well!

I love this! And I just want to recommend this Comic Book Resources to do more articles like this!!! I think for many art fans this stuff is interesting and fun!

BTW if anybody is curious, ‘Smoke, which is what those Kordey pages are from, really is great.

Travis Pelkie

May 27, 2012 at 3:08 am

What’s fascinating, and shows how good these guys are, is how someone like me, unfamiliar with the language in some of these (and not even sure what the name of the language is), can still read the strips and get most of what’s going on with them.

Beautiful stuff, and with Maurovic and Bednjanec we see how absolutely versatile some of these guys are.

@Lightning Bug: I know Brian did a Comic Book Legends Revealed about Kordey doing the New X-Men in a week, but I don’t remember the details. I read it after knowing about him doing an issue in a week, so I took that into account in how I felt about the art. The pages here are incredible, I should pick up Smoke.

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 27, 2012 at 4:00 am

@ T.P.: Yes, you should pick up Smoke. It’s really good.

Ah, brings back memories of New X-Men (and not good ones)

Thanks Tom

Excellent

Re: Darko Macan
In his Star Wars comics, which he often wrote as well as illustrated, he had the habit of giving people or locations names which to English readers sounded fictional, but which actually had a meaning in Croatian (for example Darovit, Somov Rit, Jazbina).

They miss Enki Bilal and Gradimir Smudja!!

Great review. It is nice to see the interest for Croatian authors by the commentators.

Regarding Maurovic, he did not only survived the WWII, he accutally joined the resistance.

In 1944., after being arreseted and released, in fear that he would not survive the second arrest that was imminent, he fled from occupied Zagreb to the free teritory. Fought in several battles, his appocalyptic phase was inspired with the hell he saw. Maurovic drew the whole time, the first thing that he would do, when they would liberate a town or a village was to find material for drawing.

Regarding art pieces, Bednjanec did not draw the third one. It is an hommage to Bednjanec’s work by Kresimir Zimonic, in bottom right corner you can see “Z” that he singed. Zimonic was also a member of the Novi Kvadrat group.

One more thing and I will stop. You know that imapled guy in Grendel Tales? One Croatian writter, Nobel award winner, in his most famous book describes the whole imapling procedure. Big on the impaling-expolatation stuff, aren’t we?

Both Bilal and Smudja are NOT Croatians, but Serbians! Do not confuse the two.

Anyway, Darko is a pretty effective artist as well as a kickass writer. I interviewed him once for a Brazilian website. Real nice guy too!

I was a big Biukovic fan from his Grendel Tales books, his untimely death was devastating. I’m also a Kordey fan, although never got interested on Secret History myself. Smoke and his other Delcourt comic, Empire, were much cooler.

Dozens of great vintage European comics and creators are mentioned on the introduction, it’s a bit sad that they are completely unknown on english-language countries. That needs to change someday…

@Pedro Bouça

Enki Bilal is French.

Enes Bilalovi?, his real name, was born in Belgrade, Serbia.

And Enes Bilalovi? is Bosniak.

But that does not mean much, he is a great comic book author and that is what counts.

Kordey is a great artist. I really would like to see him drawing more amarican comics.

Chuck Melville

May 28, 2012 at 5:43 pm

I remember Darko Macan quite well, or at least as well as I can remember him, given that our few communique’s were through international mail. We’d published a few of his “Sergei” strips back when I was editing “ZU” for MU Press in the mid-90′s. They were sharp, intriguing anthropomorphic tales about a one-eyed bear wandering through what seemed to be a post-war countryside, told with a Stan Sakai sensibility and maturity. (I’m sure it was no coincidence that Stan himself recommended Darko to us.) His work was a delight to read, and I was sorry to not be able to print more before we ceased publications near the end of that decade.

Marvelous piece, and I would also love to see this become a regular thing with artists talking about their influences.

There is an amazing quality to many European artists that very few American ones have. It’s a sort of combination of hyper-detailed comic-book style, cartooning, and just a touch of fine art. Look at Kordey and especially Biukovic’s art up there for an example of what I mean. I would give anything for HALF of that ability.

Well Radovan Devlic was great also: Macchu Picchu

thanks to everyone for your kind words, folks!
and big thanks to brian for initiating this article.

of course, with only five names available, some great croatian artists were left out. so, again, i can only encourage you to do your own research for more.

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