“It’s better to know nothing than half,” Miloš Jovanović remarks, channeling Nietzsche as he describes the mind of the Romanian comic artist. More collective than imprint, since 2002 Jovanović’s Hardcomics has offered “underground Romanian artists a platform for expression and denial” and aided in the maturation of a fledgling scene into a unique, articulate vision. And that vision is carving a modest but wholly expressive niche in the world of comic art.
Yet the vision is still fragmented. Jovanović admits a culture of virgin expression. In that the artists have no formal background in comics, what Hardcomics publishes is very much pure art. With no distinct aesthetic, its raw style is deserving of the self-applied “No School” banner.
Prior to the 1989 revolution, punctuated by the execution of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, comics were largely banned in Romania. The Romanian Cultural Institute explains, “The regime ‘terminated’ cartoonists for drawing ‘incorrect characters” (ironically, the government used comics as a propaganda tool to proselytize children). Now, with no regime dictating moral or artistic values, artists are free to examine social, political and personal issues through whatever lens they see fit – and have fun doing it.
But it hasn’t all been fun. There is only one comic shop that carries Hardcomics titles, and while it has published over 30 titles, it has all been done under the strain of acknowledged financial failure. Nonetheless, the reward clearly outweighs the risk. Jovanović has survived prior failed attempts and the financial issues that come with spearheading a new media that was once impossible.
Financing isn’t the only hurdle. Artists such as Matei Branea (ONULAN), Alexandru Ciubotariu and Sorina Vazelina are dealing with the problem of method. With no formal background in comics (although many are accomplished in their own personal fields), new artists are developing their own styles as well as looking to other countries for influence. The result is a raw, wholly real product that is indicative of years of forced silence and the frustration of constructing an identity contingent on expression.
Sorina Vazelina’s While We Wait (Hardcomics #10) is the perfect entrée into the fragmented world of Romanian comics. A “12 page 6 months long experiment,” the newspaper-styled publication betrays the young expression that defines the genre. Romanian artists are involved in a process of rearticulating not only themselves, but a culture as well and are in many ways just learning to speak. While We Wait is emblematic of this unique process of textual maturation. Vazelina’s work begins by examining the nature of shadows in a flowing, unpaneled series of images. The second piece, “Reep What You Sew,” builds upon the shadows through the introduction of the body. Bodily equilibrium is expressed through a process of “re/decomposition,” highlighting the interior/exterior relationship of the individual to itself. She takes a Cartesian approach of turning the self upon the self – using shadow and mirror to construct a body which will then be the primary tool with which to investigate the individual in relation to the world outside of it.
And through it all she is – like her contemporaries – learning to speak. Written in English, the book is rife with misspellings, intentional and otherwise. She is working outside of her native tongue, in effect doing what all of Romania is doing – writing a new body in an attempt to “turn the conflict into creation.”
In its present incarnation, Romania is very much a young country searching for a means of expression to articulate years of oppression and censorship. Through Hardcomics, Miloš Jovanović is providing an outlet for Vazelina and other artists and in effect cultivating a viable, relevant voice which will resonate beyond underground status. It’s not simply “crazy” as Jovanović states. It is also much more than social commentary or a simple reaction to repression. It is the forging of a true body politic and proof that it is indeed better to know nothing.
[Excluding Ceausescu, the author would like to apologize for any names lacking proper accents.]
When asked of his whereabouts, members of Team Unwinnable usually respond, “Probably drinking with the Romanians.” Peter will not corroborate that statement. See if he sticks to his story on Twitter @peterlangcrime