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Otisak: Li Kenedi (Lee Kennedy), strip autorka iz Velike Britanije


Dnevnik GRRR! festivala


ImagePančevo je, zahvaljujući pre svega angažovanju fenomenalnog Aleksandra Zografa, jedanput godišnje mesto na kom se okupljaju najvažnija imena svetske nezavisne strip scene. Na Petom festivalu stripa GRRR!, pored autora iz Amerike, Italije, Mađarske, Grčke i Srbije, učestvovala je i autorka iz Velike Britanije - Li Kenedi (Lee Kennedy), koja je poznata po predstavljanju samoironijskih i morbidnih autobiografskih storija i zabeleški iz snova. Li Kenedi je treći put na Festivalu. Ekskluzivno u Plastelinu objavljujemo integralnu verziju njenog dnevnika sa ovogodišnjeg GRRR! festivala.


Lee Kennedy: I am a small press cartoonist/writer in the UK, and it has been my good fortune to attend three of the five (to date) annual GRRR! Comic festivals in Pancevo, a delightful, but now sadly badly polluted town near Belgrade in Serbia. The government is poor, and artists, of course, are poor, so cartoonist and journalist Sasa Rakezic (known internationally as Aleksandar Zograf) somehow manages to run the entire festival on less money than might be used to import and tend to the average single celeb guest at a big American or even UK Comicon. GRRR! sometimes receives major media attention in Serbia, and artists and comic publishers come from all over the world to sample its unique vibe. Here are some excerpts from my travel diary of this year's action.


26 April, 2006, Belgrade: Of course, I was hit by a wave of humid heat first thing off the plane, which slowed down my touristing, but I was so mentally messed up over Wotan, (the cat I left at home), I wasn't really functioning, anyway. The combination of all the recent disasters in my life has shaken me. I suppose a beneficial side-effect is that I'm having more vivid dreams and hypnagogic visions than I've had in ages...


27 April: It was steaming hot and humid again, and I discovered that May Day holiday lasts about a week in Serbia. A lot of the big shops in the pedestrian district were open, but even if I had money, I'm not much of a department store fan. I did, at last, get into the splendid National Museum (the ground floor, anyway...) It's pretty gorgeous; several fine, large statues by Ivan Mestrovic, in a wonderful marble environment. There was a little exhibit from the Louvre, of casts of famous pieces, arranged on plinths, so you could turn them around and touch them. It was primarily for people with no/restricted vision, but not uninteresting. What is astonishing is that the main collection on the upper floors is doomed to remain in storage until 2010! - 'maybe'! Their government, partially thanks to sanctions, NATO, post-war punitive EU stuff, etc. is just too poor to maintain this world-class museum, which, of course, could produce plenty of revenue. That ain't right...


Somewhere in Kalemegdan, apparently, there's St Petka's church, complete with miraculous spring, another one of those sights I want to see, but can't find, or have trudged past many times, not knowing I'd found them... A few more words of warning: I haven't tried the train, but the trams and busses are sometimes difficult to figure out, and if, like me, you're not in your first youth, are morbidly obese, or have any kind of mobility problem, they are not easy to get on and off. If worst comes to worst, and you're hopelessly lost and weary, taxis are incredibly cheap, by Western standards, and in my limited experience, anyway, the drivers don't automatically try to rip you off.


Image28 April: After two- and a bit days of Belgrade in the heat, I was ready to move on to Pancevo, together with a pleasant young Italian/French couple on their first trip to Serbia - Piero Macola and Bénédicte Jouve. After crossing from Belgrade and checking out the remaining flood waters again (like, nearly up to the tops of trees...) we entered Hotel Tamis... It's still a classic of decaying Iron Curtain strangeness, but I must admit, things have improved somewhat. The mean guy on the desk who usually grumps at me was quite civil, and there was almost-hot water in the peculiar sarcophagus-like bath/shower. The reading light over the bed was working, too.


30 April: Saturday was the opening ceremony, featuring young musician/cartoonist Rita Braga from Lisbon singing a rather incomprehensible welcome from under a Daisy Duck mask. The exhibits carry on until the 9th of May... There was a lot to see, in the various festival venues.


I met Chuck Sperry, of Firehouse, who produces some pretty knockout retro rock posters, black light, the works. I would have loved to buy a couple, but they were understandably very expensive, and would have been difficult to get back unwrinkled. Mr. Sperry is an engaging character, evidently not adverse to a bit of riotous living. (www.wolfgangsvault.com/catalog)


Although I'm fairly familiar with central Pancevo, by now. I suppose my concentration is poorer than usual at present. I did a lot of getting lost, and missing things. It's really a small town, with a sleepy, good-natured attitude. Actually, it was a bit too sleepy this time around, as virtually every browse-worthy shop and café (including the sublime Popovic patisserie, which is rightly famous in the area, was shut for the long, long weekend.) Ah well, I'm all for lots of holidays. Power to the People!


The GRRR! programme had a lot of really unusual stuff this year, like Honey Talk! - a display of beehive panels from Slovenia, which used to be painted with curious scenes, etc. so the bees would know which hive was theirs. (I don't know if there's any scientific basis for this, but they were worth seeing.) Also on show were some modern graphic artists' takes on this style.


ImageThere was the usual informative opening night panel chat compered by Sasa (Aleksandar Zograf), followed by a splendid selection of some of the best Fleischer Betty Boop cartoons, the ones featuring musical greats of the day in live action antics. I've seen them many times, but they're always an inspiration. Real genius, and so much more bizarre and edgy than even the earliest Disneys. I mean, being chased through the jungle by a giant gurning Louis Armstrong head; what were they on?


There was a sweet concert by Rita Braga, who has a pretty, childlike voice and provided winsome covers of early 20th-century pop songs, complete with ukelele. She went down really well, and I expect she'll go far. She'd brought along some interesting family comics for the exhibit, and one of her own, kinda musical sci-fi, and I'd like to see more.


I managed to miss the return visit of the New York theremin player Dorit Chrysler, who was such a hit last year. She was in a new club, Arhiv, located behind Maxi's supermarket...


One of the events I'd been quite looking forward to, a slide show by 'Triceps', on '100 Years of Comics in Hungary', a completely unknown area to me, had to be cancelled. I think the guy had visa problems. Too bad; this is exactly the sort of off-centre event that makes GRRR! so, well, educational, as well as artistically exciting.


Giannis Koukoulas, a journalist from Athens, gave an illustrated talk on the influence of the fine arts on comic creators; very entertaining and well researched.


The Saturday night event was a radio broadcast by Sasa with some of the visitors, on Radio Pancevo, which I'd been 'on' in previous years, and I vaguely knew where it was, but quite frankly I could barely move my wretched carcass, so I listened to it in the Tamis hotel. Sounded like a hilarious time was had by all. There was also a concert by local bands at Studio 21, but I was having vividly bizarre Serbian dreams by then.


1 May: Monday was the annual excursion of weirdo artists to some place of interest to same. We were taken to Deliblatska Pescara, a picnic ground full of locals celebrating the Labour Day, or return of Summer (I guess). The area is evidently the only desert in Europe, which was reclaimed by planting it over with hemp. There was a sleazy funfair too...


We came to a big dacha-thing where 'Mr. Spiral' the poet/cartoonist/rocker, was bidding farewell to his five-year stint in a Pancevo shoe shop by holding a feast and exhibit of some of the artwork that he'd displayed in the shop.


Chuck Sperry sold a bunch of his amazing posters at 3000din each. Not that much, for the quality of the things...


The meal was consisting of a gigantic bottomless cauldron, full of Serbian Bean soup. God! It's GOOD. It seemed there had to be meat in it, but I've long since resigned myself to becoming a temporary carnivore over there. It turned out, though, that this splendid concoction was entirely vegetarian!


A Gipsy drummer, a well-known local character, it seems, ended up on the bus back to Pancevo with us, and thus ended GRRR! 2006; crazy right down to the wire.


Some of the this year's GRRR! exhibits included:
- A "Selection of 60's Italian Comic Book Covers", which concentrated on the dark character of Diabolik and the other anti-heroes he inspired, plus some hilarious violent-detective stuff. I was particularly intrigued by a head and shoulders closeup of a sultry cutie smouldering out at us. In the semi-darkness behind her, there's a half-open door with a pair of bare dead (?) dollybird legs sticking out...
- "Disney-Inspired Folk Art in Serbia" was an unusual treat, featuring patterns, surviving domestic artwork, and some modern recreations by Sasa's textile artist wife, Gordana Basta, of the once-popular transfers depicting scenes derived from Disney cartoons that were sold to practitioners of the Eastern European style of decorative embroideries. Other items included drawings and items made by children and others just passing time with Disney-inspired fantasy.
- "Disney in Central and Eastern Europe Before the Cold War" provided some interesting non-copyright stuff, as, particularly in Serbia, many comics featuring Disney characters, (often of very high quality), were independently produced, without any deference to Uncle Walt, who could do little about it in those days.


ImageThere was a tribute exhibit to a favourite character, 'Dikan', a sort of Balkan muscleman Asterix, "Comics in Serbia 1972-75", when comics were economically battered by a bizarre punitive tax on 'kitsch literature', and the fascinating "Home Made Magazines in Serbia", a treasure trove of strange little books and strips people produced for the amusement of friends and family, that have survived for decades forgotten in drawers and cupboards, including some items from the archives of comic artists well known to us today.


2 May: Tuesday was winding down (for me) and yet another drama, as Rita Braga's flight home was cancelled, and poor old Sasa had to try and sort it all out, in spite of various obstacles: the continuing holiday, dead phone batteries, on and on. She got out alive, anyway, and I hear has joined the select group of Western nut cases who have fallen in love with Serbia, to the point of considering living there... It's not something that's easily explained. The place is a mess in so many ways, and yet... it's just got serious Soul.


No delays for me on my flight back to London, anyway, so I only had to contend with the extension belt mortification, and having to 'leap' up when the poor girl next to me was taken sick. Serbia, in its sad, funny crazy way, had been farrr fookin'out, as ever. I want to go again!