Sasa and the war
by Éric Thériault trans. Louis Rastelli
From Vol. 2 No. 1, 2000
Remember those war updates on TV during the Persian Gulf War? These unreal images where we would see the fireworks over the skies of Baghdad, the explosions, the sounds of the bombs? Imagine for a minute that this would be happening here, in Montreal. The irony with which people would accept the news that the Olympic Stadium had been destroyed by bombs, the widening panic that would spread once people realized that it is not a dream and that NATO truly does want to destroy our city…
This is what Sasa Rakezic, a Serb living in Pancevo near Belgrade, lived through in the spring of 1999. He drew the comic you see on the page preceding this. Sasa is no amateur comic artist—he had his own series with Fantagraphics, Psychonaut, also published regularly in various zines around the world and translated into French in Lapin (published by l’Association in France.)
I first got in contact with him in 1991 when we were both published in the “Comix Compendium” out of Toronto. We both had very self-reflexive stories, and got in touch through the fact that both our addresses were printed in the book. Dreams are an important subject for him, often appearing in his strips. We kept in touch throughout the Bosnia-Herzegovenia war, occasionally appearing together in collective comics projects.
His comics generally are concerned with the day-to-day life in a country at war, the psyche, the stress afflicting citizens and his own strange hallucinogenic visions of pop icons such as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.
Serbia was on the frontier of the Bosnia-Herzegovenia civil war. Sasa didn’t have to live through forced deportations or extreme violence, but did suffer through the profound recession and psychosis of his own country. I’ve often wondered what his personal position was, as undoubtedly he couldn’t escape unaffected. He succeeded in never appearing to take a position, denouncing only the common insanity pushing both sides to conflict. I later learned that he was quite close to the pacifist movements led by artists and marginal figures. He, incredibly, conserved this position when the bombs were raining on his city in March 99. I had a moment of concern myself when I heard on the news that this “humanitarian war” had begun. He immediately began sending emails daily describing what he saw through his window. Bombed factories, clouds of toxic smoke heading for his parents’ house, and the very weird weapons we never heard about on our own news here in Canada…
“It’s funny. The people here, now, are getting a bit more relaxed lately: they’re starting to get used to the sound of the NATO planes, and even the sound of bombs… It’s horrible to see how we can get used to such terrible things so quickly… The usual targets in my city (the UTVA airplane factories in Pancevo) were hit with two bombs last night… But it should be mentioned that this factory produces small planes used in agriculture or the extermination of mosquito larvae…”
Serb TV had cut all regular programming coming from outside Serbia, with the airwaves filled with all kinds of propaganda… “I had enough and couldn’t stand to watch any more of it, but after doing a quick scan to check what was on, I found that they weren’t just playing old Yugoslavian war movies, but also American and European films (including a few Disney movies!), as well as certain popular Mexican soap-operas…”
Many other fascinating details can be read in a small book just published by l’Association in France, E-Mails de Pancevo. This compiles all of his email correspondence with his cartoonist friends.
“Yesterday, all Yugoslavian media was talking about the ratification of the peace accords by the NATO and Serbian generals (…) The victory celebration in my country looked a little absurd given the backdrop of a major fire at the refinery, and the large black clouds in the sky (…) Serbia will be the country which enters the 21st century with its factories, bridges, railways and highways completely and totally destroyed.”
E-Mails de Pancevo by Sasa Rakezic alias Aleksandar Zograf, L’Association, 1999
Another book feat. both Éric and Sasa:
Flock of Dreamers, pub. by Kitchen Sink Press