Interview with Ivan Mitrevski, Igor Prassel and Katerina (Katra) Mitrovic in Ljubljana, 04.06. 2004 by Gottfried Gusenbauer
processing: Sonja Zölß
Ivan: This is the office of Stripburger. Years ago I was visiting it as a library...We gather a lot of comics from other countries because we have so many international connections to foreign artists. Therefore we use this shelf to impose some order on the chaos of our comics. There are comics from Italy, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, America, Croatia and Slovenia. There is a shelf for every country- except Austria, which is sad because we are geographically so close. Apart from the exhibition of Mahler there is practically no connection... We even had people sending us comics from Hongkong, Kazakhstan, Latin America, the States and Europe but Stripburger never had any success in gathering Austrian artists. When we began with this magazine we were looking for Austrian artists because in nearly every magazine we offer an insight in the comics scene of a specific country. For example, this issue was about Italian comics with almost ten Italian artists. We also had a presentation of Swedish comics - the last was about Russian comics – which are very exotic to look at... I do not know if people who read comics, buy them or try to draw some themselves know that this alternative comics scene is something like a “big, happy international family” as Alexander Zograf (Saša Rakezic) called it. There are numerous people you get to know when you are travelling around. These people are constantly appearing on guest lists and always invited to different festivals. There is a very big circle of different people that are working in this area, so especially in alternative comics it’s not the usual way of publishing – it’s not publishing only for money. A lot of exchange and communication is going on. Everybody is eager to exchange things with us – that’s how we have gathered so much material.
lin_c: Could you show me your favorite comics?
Ivan: This is one by Aleksandar Zograf, who is also a good friend of Stripburger. He has published there already before it became a good magazine. In the meantime I think he got somewhat famous and it is easy to express why. He did not invent a story. He put the story of his life into his comics. He is talking about his childhood and about how life was in Serbia during the war. He is putting these little, little, micro-pieces of his life together. It is really fascinating to read his comics. What makes him a good artist is not that he draws nicely – which he does – but that he is smart enough not to invent stories when there are so many interesting incidents happening around. I could go on talking about him for ages because he is one of my favorite artists... The opposite is Danijel Žeželj. (He is from Croatia originally but lives in Brooklyn now.) His comics are not really stories – they are just sequences of pictures... I like him anyway. This comic book is by a Slovenian, Izar Lunacek. I like him very much. He made a collection of short comics for newspapers that deal with “Miniburgers“, a creature from “the edge of the grassfield”. Animals that also occur in the story are a hedgehog, a mouse and worms. I think it is an excellent comic and he drew it very well but the tragedy is that only if he worked in a different country he would be a little bit known. In Slovenia you always start at the bottom, no matter how long you have been in this business. We publish three issues a year (one special and two regular ones). The special is a bit thicker and there is a special concept behind it but besides we also make three to six exhibitions abroad and three to four at home. This year we will arrange an exhibition of Stefan Blanke’s work in Ljubljana. He is probably one of the best contemporary artists in the whole world. This is the cover he created for Warburger (one of our special issues).We are very proud of it because after approximately one year thousands of it have already been sold.
Igor Prassel enters the room
Ivan: This issue is a collective work by Pakito Bolino and Caroline Sury from Marseille (France). They specialized in doing silk-screened or lithographic works and try to show the most disgusting and brutal art they can.
Igor: It is somewhere between comics and graphic arts but they consider themselves to be comic artists and publishers.
Ivan: Nowadays a great part of the comic art is not what it meant traditionally. This shows that things are constantly developing. Back to Stephane Blanquet: We will show an exhibition of his work in three or four galleries this November in Ljubljana.
Igor: Blanquet is a great artist because he does (body-)painting, illustrations for children’s books, toys, animation films, sculptures and he even writes poems. We are really thankful to him for creating the cover for Warburger. It is sold very well also because of the cover, which is the first thing people see and appreciate or not. He often uses a special shadow technique. At the moment he is producing a feature animation film. He has a muscular dystrophy, so he is working together with Olive, who is his wife and his lover. Everything they have created within the last five years is signed with Blanke and Olive. So it is collective work again. It is very complicated to produce a feature animation film but I think they have already passed this first step and now they are starting to shoot. I hope that they will be ready with that when they come to Ljubljana because otherwise they will be totally stressed and have to go back immediately... This is a reward for this issue. After we received it (in 2001) we thought when we came back home the people would wait for us like they wait for sportsmen – but nothing. Then we went to see the minister of culture. She was ready to meet us but when we were there she suddenly knew nothing about it. So she called an assistant who briefly explained everything to her and she said “Congratulations! We will try to help you more!” but in fact they only supported us with 1000€. For this issue (Stripburek) we got money from the ministry of culture for the first time but not because they thought it was a great idea and a “bigger cultural event” than just a comic book. The fact is that Katarina and some other women went to the minister of culture, who they have known from childhood, and had a 15 minutes-shouting-session towards him. Finally he promised to give them some money. Luckily, since 1996 the ministry of culture has been supporting us with just enough money to print the three (now four) issues a year but still not enough to do something more...
Ivan: However, we have started printing separate albums (two till now) from Slovenian artists because we think it is a great opportunity for them to have their own comic book.
Igor: No other mainstream-publisher produces comic books by young, contemporary artists...
Ivan: ... because it’s much cheaper and safer to publish translations of classical comics.
Igor: In Slovenia illustrations for children’s books and novels are very popular but nobody is really interested in comics – nobody really knows them. This year, however, the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SASA) published “Maus“ from Art Spiegelmann. This was a terrible shock for us because we did not know anything about it.
Ivan: We are one of the last countries to have it – it has already been translated into other languages.
Igor: What is really important is that they want to continue the collaboration with us. For next year we are preparing “Serbia Goražde“ by Joe Sacco, which is a very important album about the war in Bosnia. With this album we try to keep up the critical debate on the war that ended just five years ago but nobody is talking about anymore. It is really important because it will be a book for highschool children to be used in history lessons.
Ivan: What is of great importance too is that it shows an aspect of comics that is not really comical but serious – talking about the war in Bosnia or the Holocaust.
Igor: Nowadays people should not think anymore that comics are just comical ...
Ivan: ...but nevertheless in Slovenia most editors and publishers still think like that.
Igor: Yes, because they do not know the contemporary comics scene, which is a pity because a market niche is created by that. However, we do not want Stripburger to become a mainstream-publisher whose only aim is to make profit. We publish the artists we like and try to earn enough money to pay them.
Ivan: If you publish in Slovenia the problem is that there is a very small market...
lin_c: Igor, could you introduce yourself a little bit? When did you start working for Stripburger? What is your function in this office?
Igor: My name is Igor Prassel. I am 33 years old. I joined Stripburger in 1995 because I knew Boris Bacic, who was the first editor. We met at concerts and some alternative events in Ljubljana. He told me that they needed someone to write some articles and reviews on comics and to help in the editorial board because at that time just Boris Bacic, Jakob Klemencic and Katarina Mirovic, who is the mother of Stripburger, worked here.
Katarina is the only one who has been working for Stripburger since the beginning in 1992. Unfortunately, Boris Bacic suffered from the burn-out-syndrome (after five years of working like crazy) and quit in 1997 - also because he had to find a different job (his wife had a baby ...). Thus, it was good that I came. I started with writing some stupid articles. What is more important is that I seriously began with an address book for Stripburger. We have established contacts with approximately 300 comics artists from all over the world. In the first time we did not have access to the internet, so we wrote postcards and letters instead of e-mails. It was a hard job but I liked it. Then we started to organize ourselves to be present at the most important comic festivals in Europe, especially Angouleme where we went in 1997 when we published the first Stripburger. We also managed to establish numerous contacts with important persons (directors of festivals, journalists, other comics publishers or editors,...). We started at the bottom and became one of the best small publishers in the world – in terms of distribution. In America we had great success with Top Shelf publishing. They take care of our special issues – not just in America but also in Canada and the rest of the world. They not only distribute but promote our comics. The connection with Top Shelf goes back to me and Jakob Klemencic travelling to the Small-Press-Expo in Washington DC where we had a lecture about the comics scene in Eastern Europe and especially Slovenia and the market. At that time we had another agent – Robert Boyd who turned out to be an unlucky choice for us – but you only learn through mistakes. We met Chris Staros and Brett Warnock from Top Shelf and this was a kind of magic link – a thing that sometimes happens between persons or not. After two years we asked them to be our distributors and they accepted immediately. At that time I spent six to ten hours in the office everyday until two years ago when Ivan Mitrevski came to save me. It was a point in my life when I did not have the eagerness anymore to continue like that. Now I have a part-time job in the Slovenian Cinematec where I am the assistant of the film museum curator. I curate the program of the animation films there and I am involved in two film festivals (one of them is the Novo Mesto International Short Film Festival) with the goal to start my own animation film festival in December in Ljubljana. It will be a festival where animation and comics are linked. Stripburger will be a partner of this event because we will not just invite one comic artist every year to create a poster and a cover for the catalogue and to decorate the place (the cinema) but we will also try to have some kind of program in connection with comics. Now Ivan and Katarina are the main persons working in the Stripburger office. Katarina is always sitting in front of the computer. She does not want to give interviews. She is happy with being the „mother in the shadow“.
Ivan: She has got a lot of work to do because she is responsible for the preparation of the printing and the financial issues.
lin_c: What attracted your attention and interest in comics?
Igor: I was born and spent the first 17 years of my life in a town close to the border to Italy. My grandfather was working in Italy. At least once a week he brought me comics from there. First I read all classical ones but then I started to search for other comics. When I went to Italy my grandfather gave me some money to buy some comics myself. At that time I was not thinking about working in this area. I started to study journalism because I wanted to become a film critic or something like that but it was good to decide to work for Stripburger because many of my interests are combined in this job. The first is to travel around and meet nice people, the second to read comics and the third is based on political ideas because when we produce special issues each of us can propose ideas and topics. So far we have published an anti-Nazi-calendar, human-rights postcards, Warburger,... You do not do it just for money but for a personal idea.
Ivan: There are numerous artists who do not invent stories. Their comics usually deal with their own life - with what has happened to them. A great number of artists publishing in Stripburger are no professionals. Most of them publish because they want to say something, which makes it easier to edit a magazine that has at least a little bit of political profile.
Igor: The first time we contacted José Muñoz, one of the most important contemporary comic artists who works for famous publishers and a lot of money, and told him that if we have a print run of 1000 for a regular issue we usually send out 300 copies to other authors, journalists, publishers and editors for free, nevertheless he agreed to give us a short story that he had not published anywhere because it was too short and too hard. We publish works from newcomers and famous artists like Julie Doucet, Danijel Žeželj, Mary Fleener, Marcel Ruiters, Lorenzo Matotti, Stefano Ricci, Anke Feuchtenberger and Nicolas Mahler, who usually try to avoid small publishers. Thus, we are very proud to get positive feedback from those authors. We are one of the few anthologists still existing after eleven years. Usually small publishers cannot survive more than three or four years.
Ivan: Actually, producing a comic magazine is much more difficult than just separate albums or comic books because you have to keep all the contacts and have a special concept behind each issue. It is much harder to gather all the material and put it in the correct form. Maybe some editors avoid publishing anthologies because it takes too much time. They just publish separate albums or short stories just by one artist.
Igor: It is only possible to continue our work because we receive supporting money from the ministry of culture. Moreover, all editors (except one who gets minimum wages) and authors collaborating with us work for free. That is the only way to go on.
Ivan: We could not continue without any financial support.
Igor: Maybe now, after eleven years when we found out with which special issues we could earn enough money to finance the printing, it could work but it would not be the same feeling because there would be the pressure of selling enough issues.
Ivan: It would be totally different if we just did it for money.
lin_c: Why do you think it was possible that such a great comic scene that achieved international success has developed in Ljubljana?
Igor: It is a paradox because Slovenia is a country that is not tributing its own classical comics authors. They are not important, like for example Miki Muster: We all (at least four generations) were reading his comics when we were young. I have numerous friends who still know passages from certain stories by heart. Miki Muster mixed the style of Walt Disney and Walt Kelly and at that time - in the socialism (he published his comics in the 50ies, 60ies and 70ies) - it was a very nice way for young people to travel because his stories were set in Africa or on the moon, for example.
Ivan: They found a time-machine and started travelling to the Prehistoric Age and the Medieval Times. There were all these adventures... What is worth mentioning concerning Miki Muster is that specific Slovenian fairy tales occur in his comics. He uses a very archaic language.
Igor: He is 72 years old now and the world champion in marathon swimming for seniors but he is completely disappointed about the publishers of his comics because they never paid him enough and destroyed his originals. When I met him one month ago, I asked him if any publisher was interested in reprinting his old comics because you can find his books only in shops for antiques but he said “No, I have everything ready at home and wait till someone comes and we sign a contract. They pay 5000 € and I give them everything.“ This is the situation in Slovenia and that’s the paradoxical point: It is a country that started thinking about comics five years ago, which is also because of the exhibitions we organized... In the first three years I wrote articles for newspapers and established many contacts between artists and editors... In 1990 there was the “street collective” which was primary producing hardcore-music. (They had a band called 2227). Their idea was to edit a magazine which would present comics, graphics and photos, together with articles on music, and concert reviews. We have the first issue. It looks very funny... There are comics but no texts about music. (They started in 1998 and when everything was ready to be printed they decided to use only comics, graphics and photos because the texts were already out-dated.) This collective work of several people continued somehow. As I told you the Stripburger editorial team is a living organism. From time to time new people are joining us. There are young people with a high motivation and a lot of energy. I came when Boris Bacic was leaving. Now Ivan has come – I am not leaving but I am “stepping out with one foot” – and we also have Matej de Cecco, a new, young person. I am sure he will be there for at least five further years.
lin_c: Is there a big gap between “high art“ and “low art“ in Ljubljana/Slovenia? What is your attitude to “the classical artist“? In Linz/Wien it is a huge problem to produce comics. In his autobiographical comics "Kunsttheorie versus Frau Goldgruber" Nicolas Mahler mentions that when he went to a teacher at the university of arts and showed him his work, he got the answer “I do not want to offend you but I think that’s comics.“ Is it the same in Ljubljana?
Igor: I would say the mentality is quite the same – especially in national institutions like the Gallery of Modern Art, national museums, the opera or national theaters supported by the state. One of the biggest problems in the cultural economy/politics of culture is that every year we compete to get money from the ministry of culture and the city of Ljubljana. Apart from the cultural areas mentioned before, modern dance, modern theaters, contemporary music and cinemas are very popular in Ljubljana. The problem is if the „cake“ is about 100 000 €, usually the so-called “high-art“ immediately takes 70 000 € away, so there are only 30 000 € left for us small alternatives to fight for a small part of the money. The numbers are not like that ...
Ivan: They are much, much bigger.
Igor: Less, less. The budget for culture and arts is really low – maybe Katarina knows the correct number. Within the last five years there have been some changes: one of them concerns the Gallery of Modern Art in Ljubljana – with Zdenka Badovinzc as director. They have a strong link with “Neuhistorische Kunst” now - and for the first time they had an exhibition of comics in their gallery. They showed works by the classical Slovenian artist Kostja Gatnik (Magna Purga) who published in 1976 the first book with alternative comics in the “socialist block”. They informed us that they plan to arrange at least one exhibition of comics a year and they will also start to build up their own collection of comics. In 1996 there was the first, big exhibition of Slovenian comics in the Gallery of Contemporary Arts in Celje, a small town between Ljubljana and Maribor. Now we are collaborating with these people to repeat this exhibition in 2006. They promised to organize a big exhibition with Slovenian comics every ten years. It is really important – not for the reason that then you can see originals in the gallery because personally I hate to see these pieces of art behind glass in a gallery – but it is important for the artists themselves because if they have an exhibition in a serious art gallery it means that they are serious artists. It is as simple as that. It also helps them to apply for scholarships. Apart from that it is similar to what you have said about the situation in Linz. People could and should think differently about comics. They should at least try to get closer to them and know them but they don’t want that. Another important point is our collaboration with the French cultural institute in Ljubljana. We have been working together for the last four or five years. They have been supporting us a lot in terms of attracting public attention. We organize at least one or two events a year with them. From all those foreign cultural centers (Italian, German, British, Austrian and French) just the latter is cooperating well with us. We also collaborate with “life culture” and “contemporary culture”. Every year they ask us to suggest what we could do together. I wished it could be the same with the others because then it would be much easier for us to organize events and exhibitions.
Ivan: In France the situation concerning the gap between “high culture” and “low culture” seems to be a little bit different – at least in this institute. Comics are taken more seriously, so you do not have to fight for a “small piece of the (financial) cake”. In my opinion the image of comics changes from country to country.
lin_c: There are many political ideas behind Stripburger’s issues. Let’s talk a little bit more about the project Warburger. There was a big exhibition on a festival in Berlin. Can you tell me anything about the idea and the meaning of this project?
Ivan: The idea emerged together with the peace institute in Ljubljana. We should make a special issue with anti-war comics. It was the time when Slovenia became part of the NATO and the Americans were preparing for the war against Iraq. There is a limit concerning how much you can say - how much political influence you can have with comics. However, we should be thoughtful about what message we convey, even if there is no strong political influence. I think we were surprised by the reaction of the artists and how many people had a lot to say about war. In the end we had so many comics that we had to publish a special issue that was twice as thick as we planned (400 pages). It was a real encouragement to see that there are so many people who write comics about such a serious topic. Moreover, it sells well.
Igor: I remember that at the beginning when we called for participation - and we always try to do that in a very funny or original way and not just write an official letter - we said “Warning! Warning!...All the artists have to report to the Stripburger office.“ We got feedback from some Americans who asked if they were also allowed to participate and we said “Yeah, do it, do it, do it!“ In the end we had numerous artists...
Ivan: However, that does not only concern Warburger but comic books in general. I have seen numerous comics by American artists that deal with the Iraq war and George W. Bush. It seems to be pretty normal for them to reflect their own political situation.
lin_c: Do you also show a different perspective of war than the media that only present the news the politicians want the people to know?
Igor: Warburger is also – I mean we cannot call it a source book for studying the different aspects of war - but it is critical about the media because it tries to show us how we are influenced to believe everything they tell us is true. The authors carefully examined the sources the media had for their information. We were invited to the „Frankfurter Buchmesse“. Officially, we had this exhibition with comics from East Europe. We were lucky because Art Spiegelmann was also invited but after 9/11, when the attack happened very close to him, he had severe psychological problems, so he cancelled all his exhibitions for the next year. Thus, they asked us to come and we really thought “Wow, Frankfurter Buchmesse!“ but for us it was “real shit“. We will never go there again to exhibit something because we did not establish contacts and even had troubles with the local organizers.
Ivan: I think the „Frankfurter Buchmesse“ is for a different kind of publishers...
Igor: What is also worth mentioning is how the Slovenian press reported on our presence there. They did not appreciate it. In Frankfurt Milorard Krstic, a very good friend and artist from Budapest, was also invited because we suggested him to the organizers. Whenever we are asked who should be invited, we recommend a different author to get to know many artists personally.
Ivan: We do a lot for the artists. Nearly each of them is invited to a place where his work is shown. We even published a list of their contact addresses. Additionally, all artists, whose works are not included in the “Anthology of the History of European Comics”, are presented on a poster with a little extract from one of their comics. That is how we try to do more than just producing magazines. We want to establish contacts between artists and publishers. Stripburger is mostly known for its project Stripburek- the “Anthology of the History of European Comics” - that features artists from Russia, Kazakhstan, Albania and people that have never published anything before but are very talented. I still get e-mails from journalists who ask if they could get an interview with Stripburek (not Stripburger). This shows that it was very important for Stripburger to produce this collection of East and West European comics.
Igor: Milorard Krstic had the idea to present Warburger as a joke. He suggested to invent countries and present the war between them like a football game... but that was too complicated. Nevertheless, we will use that idea for one of the next special issues (maybe in three years) which will be about stereotypes (sex, gender, nation, food, clothes and possession).
Ivan: I think in most cases the authors send us comics they have in mind or already written. Of course, it depends on the topic but I do not think they start writing and drawing only after they got to know the topic of our issue.
Igor: No, I would say it depends – maybe half-half.
Ivan: When we prepared the Warburger-project we got so many responses because everyone was already thinking about the topic.
Igor: Concerning Sexburger, however, I think the majority of the stories were originally written for our magazine.
Ivan: Yes, but sex is a topic everybody has written a comic about...
lin_c: Stripburger has been known as presenting comics from the “other Europe“. Now this is changing...
Ivan: No. The issues you mean had the subtitle “comics from the rusty, iron curtain“. There are actually two such issues. In 2006 we will produce the third one...
Igor: ...that will surely be subtitled differently - but nothing like “comics from the new Europe“. It is nice to play around with “those geographical things” but we do not take them seriously. There is a project, initiated by the European Union, where we would get subsidies from them if we presented comics from another EU country every issue but this does not go along with our idea.
Ivan: The eastward expansion of the European Union has been the topic of the year. However, I don’t think that there will be enormous changes because the borders are still the same.
Igor: Things will just become worse.
Ivan: Most of the publishers and editors are looking down on East European artists.
Igor: They consider them to be “something exotic”. However, we had success with at least three or four artists whose works have also been published afterwards in magazines from Western countries. The only change since the accession to the EU that directly concerns me because I am involved in the cinema business is that when we get a print from someone in Europe we don’t have to be bothered about the customs and the transport is cheaper. Apart from that nothing has changed...Really!
Ivan: The only change that affects us is that we can apply for money from the European Union.
Igor: Yes, but you have to spend so much time with filling out lots of papers and you don’t know if you get some money in the end. In Slovenia the problem is that we have “imaginary funds”. The state / ministry of culture is not willing to give us the other half of the money. Usually, the European Union gives you half of the money and expects you to get the other half. Unfortunately, there is no money. In Slovenia the budget for culture is approximately 0.9 % of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). They (ministry of culture) don’t even plan to fight for more money. This is like a “suicidal bomb in their hands”. That’s why we do not only focus on the ministry of culture but are always looking for other partners, especially when we plan to produce a special issue (for Warburger, for instance, we had the peace institute that supported us with a fair “portion of money” and promotion; they also bought some copies in order to give them to their partners). It is really important to find a new cooperator for every new issue. For next year are preparing a special project, called...
Ivan: Beehive Benavendit (Panjska Koncnica)
Igor: In Slovenia we have big houses with “art brute paintings” on them.
Ivan: We plan to present this traditional art in a modern form.
lin_c: Is it similar to what is shown in the ethnographic museum in Ljubljana?
Igor: Yes – in the ethnographic museum we have it in the Radovljica house.
lin_c: What was the idea of the project?
Igor: The idea to produce that was put forward by Pakito Bolino. He saw the reproduction (Beehive Benavendit) and we immediately established connections to the ethnographic museum. Unfortunately, it seems as if the people there were not very good at organizing. We hoped they would apply for some money from the European Union for national heritage projects because it is a special project that tells an old story (national heritage) through a new medium (comics) but... At least they gave us their exhibition hall which is very beautiful and they also supported the exhibition financially. However, there is still a huge problem: We would like to engage nine artists who we want to pay for the exhibition because they will have to write a longer story that deals with a given topic, so they cannot send us comics they have already drawn.
lin_c: What about feedback from the readers? Do they send you e-mails or write letters?
Ivan: Actually, the readers don’t write to us. They buy the magazines and read them, which is in my opinion the most recognition editors can achieve. However, we receive a lot of feedback from artists. One of the most interesting things - since I have taken over the function of keeping contacts for Stripburger - is that there are numerous people who are not comics artists themselves but want to start drawing. Lots of them write e-mails asking how they should start or if they could send us some comics. In my opinion Stripburger ought to seize this opportunity to encourage those people. It was actually the same with me – the “cool-looking” graphic design and original style of the Stripburger issues inspired me to start drawing comics myself. I think there are numerous people who are just like me – people who realize that comics are more than just Mickey Mouse or stupid cartoons. Of course, we get a lot of trashy e-mails too but nevertheless, the fact that a great number of people writes to us is very encouraging.
Igor: We always meet a lot of readers at festivals... I will tell you a story about the last festival we participated – the 22nd Barcelona International Comic Festival May 6th to 9th, 2004. It was the first time they invited non-commercial, alternative publishers from foreign countries. They wanted to have a special exhibition with Warburger and Stripburek. The reaction of the public was great. The people said “It’s the first time we see something really innovative.”
Ivan: Now that we are so close to the hostel, a group of British students came to us, when we had the Warburger-exhibition in Ljubljana. They said “Oh, it’s so great that you have a comic exhibition right at the time we are visiting Slovenia.” They have known Stripburger before through buying and reading our comic books. A lot of people visiting Ljubljana come here right from the youth hostel to see what the office looks like and maybe to buy new issues. That’s a good feedback from the readers abroad.
Igor: We gained very positive feedback from a special reader at the film festival in Isola Cinema Film Festival. It was Mika Kaurismaki the famous Finnish artist and brother of Aki Kaurismaki. When he visited our stand, he said he has known Stripburger for a long time. He was really happy to meet someone from the editorial team to express his appreciation. Finland is a special country. We had the chance to go to a comic festival there. It was very beautiful to meet people who share the same opinion concerning publishing comics... This is very encouraging for our work.
Ivan: This is our payment.
Ivan: ...what I should mention is that Stripburger is no group of artists, it’s more like a meeting point for them. We do not produce any comics ourselves. We only ask people to collaborate. The artists do all the work - we only combine the comics...
Igor: We organize comic workshops for children, which is a very important activity. Two people from our editorial team are responsible for that and try to offer at least ten workshops a year in Slovenia. What is worth mentioning is that you immediately notice that children (especially twelve-year-olds) share a common feeling towards comics. Each of them is able to produce a story of one page in an hour. In a way we are working for the future of our magazine, our future readers,... We know that you cannot give a Stripburger issue to any person who knows nothing about comics because before you reach the level that you can understand and appreciate the comics that are published by Stripburger, you have to read Disney comics first and then go upwards step by step. One can compare it to poetry: You have to read a lot until you are able to distinguish between “good” and “bad” poems.
lin_c: I think in Austria we have the problem that the last fifteen or twenty years all young people were more interested in videos and computers than in drawing. I don’t want to be cynic but one could say the west (Austria) had the computers and the east (Slovenia) not, so the people there were drawing instead. One reason for the comics scene developing so well in Slovenia but not in Austria could be that comics are much cheaper than computers, you do not have to have technical knowledge and you can take comic books wherever you want, whereas concerning computers this is much more difficult.
Igor: In my opinion a local comics scene is always developing after someone has started. We have been here for eleven years now and are a reference for many young artists.
Ivan: Even if they are not especially interested in the comics we publish – if they only want to receive some advice - we are always glad to encourage them by publishing their works from time to time and establishing contacts between them and other editors.
Igor: In Austria there is a very lively experimental cinema scene and that’s because a few persons like Peter Kubelka and Peter Tscherkassky are in a position that young artists come to them and want to create something similar to their work. In Slovenia we also have a video and music scene that is originated in the 80ies. Nowadays the scene is still very burgeoning because there are festivals where the artists can take part. In my opinion it is not that difficult to find reasons for a scene developing somewhere and somewhere not.
lin_c: Ivan, could you also introduce yourself a little bit?
Ivan: My name is Ivan Mitrevsky. I am 25 years old and working as an editor for Stripburger. I joined the team two years ago. I got interested in comics four or five years ago, when I went to a comic book shop, where they had a lot of comics from all over the world. Me and my friends often went there just to sit down and read comics for a while. It was a shop where it was possible to start reading a comic, put it back onto the shelf and come the next day again to continue reading. I went there many times because I was fascinated by the different graphic styles and paintings. Once I bought some issues by Stripburger, although I had known nothing about them, but when I was looking at the comics I was really impressed. I have always had artistic ambition, so I thought “Maybe I can start drawing comics myself.” I really started drawing and sent a draft to Stripburger. Igor called me and said “It is ok. Maybe we will publish it in one of our magazines... but come to our office and we will discuss everything.” Finally, it was published. After a while I started coming to the office because I like the style of Stripburger so much. Igor told me about Boris Bacic, who worked here before me... Even though there are just a few Slovenian comics, we grew up with them. It was not only Miki Muster, who is a classical Slovenian artist that is known by every Slovenian. We also read Italian comics...When I think back now – it was all trash (not very imaginative, stupid stories and boring characters). Most of those comics were published in Croatia or Serbia. So they were all in Serbo-Croatian. I think many Slovenians can speak this language because they have read Serbo-Croatian comics as children. I suppose I have learnt speaking English by reading “Peanuts” and “Garfield”. I have always been interested in comics and I am glad to be a part of Stripburger.
lin_c: Do you think Stripburger is an "urban phenomenon"?
Ivan: If I have to choose between city and countryside, Stripburger is definitely an “urban phenomenon”. It has always been connected with this urban and free-minded culture that has developed in the cities. I do not think that this would be possible in the countryside. Ljubljana is a small city but nevertheless, it is a city... Right now we are in an autonomous cultural center which is probably one of the biggest in this area. In my opinion it does not matter how big the city is... Alternative comics is a part of urban culture. In Katarina’s office...
lin_c: Katarina, could you please introduce yourself?
Katarina: My name is Katarina Mirovic and I am an editor and co-founder of the Stripburger magazine. In 1992 we began with the first issue that was merely an alternative culture magazine which covered graphic arts, illustration and comics. We also intended to include articles on music but since we have gathered money for a too long time, the articles outdated. Therefore we just left them out. After the first issue many people left the editorial team. Boris Bacic became the new main editor. He was the most important person in the office for some years. During this period my main function was to manage the financial issues.
Igor: You could also tell Gottfried something about the main difference between working in the first time - without financial support by the state - and working today, when we are part of the financial plan of the ministry of culture, although we only get a small amount of money?
Katarina: I forgot to tell you that after publishing the first issue with Boris Bacic as new main editor, we developed the concept of the Stripburger magazine. The idea was to gather artists from the former Yugoslavia and also present some foreign artists. From the beginning Stripburger’s aim was not only to publish magazines but also organize exhibitions, roundtables and other events in connection with comics. Since its beginning one of the main problems was the financial issue. We were partly financed by student organizations, the “Office for Youth” and later by a foundation called “Open Society Institute of Slovenia”. Actually this foundation had a great influence on Stripburger by offering us the possibility to publish regular issues. We also cooperated with them in certain projects like the human rights-postcards, the Anti-Nazi calendar or Ekoburger. At the time when they decided to cancel the program of financing the magazine, we fortunately got money from the ministry of culture for the first time. So actually we were quite lucky with the finances. We have been supported by the ministry of culture for six years now.
lin_c: Everybody says you are the boss here...
Igor: No, the mother.
Katarina: No, I am not the mother...
lin_c: I heard you used a great trick when you asked the minister of culture for money...
Katarina: No, actually it was a big coincidence. We had a meeting with the minister of culture, which was actually a quarrel of two hours. Finally he promised to support us with 2500€ for each project. It is not necessary that they continue to support us but usually if you have good reviews they don’t let you down. When they changed the members of the expert commission, however, it happened that they did not give us any money for one year.
lin_c: In my opinion Stripburger is very important for the youth...
Katerina (Katra) Mitrovic
Katarina: I think they still give us money because we are the only comic magazine in Slovenia and internationally well-known. We even got an award in Angouleme. So it is hard for them to refuse to give us some money. However, if we were not well-known internationally, I think we wouldn’t get anything because the members of the commission responsible for publishing do not know anything about comics and are not even interested in them at all.
Igor: Katarina, maybe you explain the structure of the Forum Ljubljana because we have not talked about that before.
Katarina: The Forum Ljubljana, which is actually called Institute for Artistic and Cultural Production, was established in 1994 as successor of a student organization called Forum. It was one of the first serious associations in Slovenia, which was founded in the late 60ies. The productions cover almost each field of art (from new media to visual arts). Music is the only thing that has been left out for a few years.
lin_c: What attracted your interest in comics?
Katarina: Actually, I was more interested in music than in comics but I was also fascinated by visual arts. In the time of the former Yugoslavia we all have grown up with reading comics. Me and my friends got comics from older neighbors who had enough money to buy them. Comics were part of my cultural life...
lin_c: Thank you very much.
DVD "Commix Stripburger",
Kamera und Gestalung: Gottfried Gusenbauer,
Musik: Gerald Roßbacher (das fax mattinger)