Graphic Narratives Re-telling History: Serbia and Bosnia

Sunday, 08 January
12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Virginia, Sheraton 

699. Graphic Narratives Re-telling History: Serbia & Bosnia

This is the second of two panels that analyze the use of graphic narrative to re-tell history – in this case the focus will be the former Yugoslavia. We will have two presentations about comics and graphic art in Serbia: Mraovic-O’Hare looks at the work of Aleksander Zograf through the lens of journalism, reporting “from the inside” of life under Milosevic; Mangum, who will be attending the second annual Novo Doba (“New Era”) festival of independent comic art in Belgrade, will report on new developments in the last few years and how comic artists and graphic novelists are treating the past. Our last presentation examines a (re)translation of Joe Sacco’s Safe Area: Goražde into Bosnian, asking how a story meant to narrate the Bosnian war for an outside audience can work effectively on the inside as well.

Chair: Rossen Djagalov (Yale U.)

Lisa Mangum (Independent Publishing Resource Center), "The Novo Doba Festival of Non-Aligned Comics in Belgrade"

Damjana Mraovic-O'Hare (Penn State U.), "How We Survived War, Sanctions, and NATO Bombing, And Then Laughed: Regards from Serbia by Alexandar Zograf"

Jessie Labov (Ohio State U.), "Back into Bosnian: Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde Returns Home from War "

Respondent: Martha Kuhlman (Bryant U.)

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 About the panelists:

Martha B. Kuhlman is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at Bryant University where she teaches courses on the graphic novel, Central European literature, and critical theory. She has published articles on Central European literature and culture in European Comic Art, Modernism/Modernity, The Comparatist, World Literature Today, and Studies in 20th Century Literature. She recently co-edited a book with Dave Ball, The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing is a Way of Thinking, published by UPM. 

Jessie Labov is Assistant Professor in Slavic & East European Literature at the Ohio State University. She has written on the film industry in Eastern Europe, underground culture before and after 1989, and new models of disseminating culture online. Her current publishing projects include a co-edited volume of essays with Friederike Kind-Kovacs, From Samizdat to Tamizdat: Transnational Media During and After Socialism, and a monograph entitled Transatlantic Central Europe.
Lisa Mangum received her master's degree from the University of Washington (MAIS 2008), where she studied Czech and (ex-)Yugoslav art and culture, focusing her research on independent comics in Serbia.  In her thesis "On the Margins: Underground Comics and Counter Culture in Contemporary Serbia" examined how comics artists responded to the Yugoslav wars and ensuing social/economic transformation, looking closely at the work of Aleksandar Zograf and the Kosmoplovci art collective.  Lisa also contributed chapters to the book STRIPOVI: Independent Comics in Serbia and Croatia (2009, which is available in France, Belgium, and Switzerland, and co-published an anthology of international comics titled Gazeta: Comics from Bangkok to Belgrade (2010, which is distributed in the U.S.  Currently, Lisa resides in Portland, Oregon, where she runs a small art gallery "Oko" and teaches a class on World Comics at the Independent Publishing Resource Center (

Damjana Mraovic-O'Hare teaches at the Pennsylvania State University. He has published about Slavic and American literature in Criticism, Modern Language Studies, MELUS, World Literature Today, Serbian Studies, and Exit 9, and participated in many conferences both in the U.S. and Europe. Currently, she examines graphic narratives influenced by the 1990s former-Yugoslavia ethnic conflict, and revises her dissertation (adviser Michael Berube) on the trope of failure in American literature into a book. She was a recipient of the Salzburg, the Open Society, and the Soros fellowships.

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Full Abstracts

Dr. Damjana Mraović -O’Hare
The Pennsylvania State University

"How We Survived War, Sanctions, and NATO Bombing, And Then Laughed: Regards from Serbia by Alexandar Zograf"

I examine Alexandar Zograf’s comic book Regards from Serbia (2007), which covers the period from 1993 to 2001, as an example of graphic journalism. I suggest that by insisting on the first person perspective and elements atypical for comic books (e.g. personal emails), Zograf both enriches the genre and provides an insight into the Balkan ethnic clashes of the 1990s. The Serbian artist has often been compared to Joe Sacco whose Palestine is considered a landmark of graphic journalism. However, combining contemporary history, autobiographical and surrealist elements, Zograf offers an account of life “from the inside,” through the eyes of the war sufferer. Unlike Sacco who romanticizes the human desire for life in war conditions, Zograf focuses on the absurd and exposes the social and political collapse of Serbia, caused by the dictatorial regime of the former president Slobodan Milosevic, as well as the counterproductivenes of the U.N. sanctions (1992-2000), and the NATO bombing of Serbia (1999). Zograf, though, refuses to define his style as documentary, recognizing in his narrative “some kind of fantastic realism” that can be fully grasped only by imagination. Focusing on daily paradoxes of life in the impoverished country, Zograf humanizes his characters and introduces a comic relief despite the bleakness of the historical moment that is symbolized by his intensive use of black. For instance, his characters are not concerned about NATO bombs because they are “smart.” The characters know that they are not either Milosevic or a part of the government for which the bombs are intended. During Milosevic’s reign, Zograf’s art was considered anti-establishment; a decade later, Regards is a classic whose nuanced perspective and narrative speak both to domestic and foreign audiences.