Friday, 28 February 2014

From Lupus to Mr. Foxx

Drawing and publishing gag cartoons under the Communist regime

Back in the high school, in the early 70's, I published a single-copy cartoon magazine I named "Pink". I drew and wrote it all by hand (that was even before the Xerox era). Obviously, I was inspired by the immensely popular animated cartoon of that era: Pink Panther. However, all the characters and the jokes were my original ideas.
The fellow students loved my first publishing attempts. I changed the name of the comic first to "Bourp" and then to "Lupus". The mono copies were cruising from hand to hand. Years later I drew the comic book "Vuchko and friends" and tried to publish it in the youth's magazine, Omladinski tjednik ("Youth weekly" - the Alliance of Socialist Youth) where I had published some cartoon panels before. However, in those sensitive political times under Tito's Communist regime, some of my cartoons hit the wrong cord and I was expelled and banned from the public press. The main reason for firing me was that "I couldn't draw" (a rather ridiculous claim, because I became a rather accomplished illustrator early in my life), which the board of editors unanimously confirmed. Now that I remember the times, I get the chills, because I was so naive and I could have gotten into a serious trouble. The people ended up in prison for just saying something wrong in the wrong place. I knew people who ended up in Tito's gulag. Some 20.000 to 60.000 (nobody knows the exact number), of mostly innocent people served time and hard labour on Goli otok (the Naked island). Work in the quarry, malnutrition and torture were the daily routine there. Many have died. Of course, it wasn't the only prison, but it was specialised for political crimes, like the notorious, dreaded: "verbalni delikt" (the spoken words crime, or the "big mouth" crime). Oh, "the good old times"....
O.K. so I got it easy, but my cartoonist career was stalled for years.
Decades later, after the fall and disintegration of Yugoslavia, I invented a comic strip with the  fox as a main character: Fox, Cat&Rat to be published online. Here is the second version introduction image:

Thursday, 13 February 2014

A cartoon by Oberon

A bit of nostalgia Part 2

The strange distant world of the late 1950's

That world seems strange even to myself now. 

We didn't have refrigerator, nor a washing machine...  A dish washer? You must be joking :-)
No mixer, no blender, no vacuum cleaner. There was gas in the apartment, for hot water and cooking but I almost died at the age of 2 from monoxide poisoning. We didn't have a telephone. We didn't have a TV, but we had a radio. No gramophone, no car, no motorcycle, no bicycle. My sister had a pair of rollers and I had a wooden skiro (romobil). I enjoyed it very much.
It was the same model like the one in the picture. Only mine was in blue colour.

I was wearing Lederhose and for special occasions my sailor's suit. I preferred Lederhose. I must have looked ridiculous as a dwarf sailor.

The stores at the time kept only one or two products of the kind. The farmers brought fresh milk to our doorstep. The street musicians were performing in the closed yards of the city town blocks. The change was tossed to them from the balconies and windows. 

Everybody was smoking cigarettes without filter. Smoking was cool.Some even chewed tobacco. There were spittoons in public places.

The only work free day of the week was Sunday. There were still horse carriages in the streets. In the winter time, most of the streets were covered with snow, which didn't bother anybody. The horse sledges were also in use until the mid 60's.

The river Sava was still clean and safe for swimming in Summer time. It was teaming with fish and shrimps. There were still millions of wild animals in Africa, roaming free. The Brazilian rain forest was still untamed and vast. The oceans and the seas were still relatively free of garbage and full of life. The world population was about 3 billion, compared with today's over 7 billion.

There wasn't any ozone layer hole present yet (or we were just unable to detect it). There wasn't global warming either. However, nuclear powers were conducting nuclear tests quite often. In deserts or on the beautiful Pacific atolls. Each time using even more powerful device. Nobody cared about the radioactive fallout. The cold war was at its peak. The destiny of the world was very uncertain. The option of a humankind self-destruction was in the hands of a very few. There were many local wars going on in the World. Many countries were still colonies.
The radioactive waste was carelessly being dumped into the seas and rivers. Other highly toxic waste was handled the similar way. Nobody knew or cared about them. It was usually a  top secret issue.
Asbestos was a magic material and it's use was wide spread.

Computers were ridiculously large, taking space of several rooms and had the capacity of a modern simple calculator.

In a way, late 50's were not much different from the late 30's. here is Zagreb from the late 30's.

In the 50's malaria has been eradicated throughout the ex Yugoslavia thanks to the magic insekticide DDT. Later it proved to be a dangerous neurotoxin, which was literary indestructible. The bed bugs were gone (only to return about a decade ago). The fleas were everywhere. The ticks in the woods were scarce and didn't carry deadly Lyme disease. Penicillin was a new powerful, omnipotent tool against many bacterial infections. However, viruses were still very dangerous. A pandemic of polio caused foreclosure of  numerous public children's pools in Zagreb. Before this measure, children took every opportunity and place for bathing.

Instead of coffee we drank this cheap surrogate in the morning:

Real Turkish coffee was enjoyed at our home, too. However, we bought it raw so it had to be roasted on a pan and then grind in a hand mill grinder. We still have the old grinder.

We ate dry cookies. There were only a couple of types available. We were lucky our mother was an expert cook, so we didn't have to eat that industrial stuff too often.

I ate my first banana at the age of 4.

 A local company started to produce a cola drink:

I collected matchstick boxes

We still didn't have a camera

Our old radiio: model Savica 1956

He ruled the radio waves in the late 50's:

This young Canadian was very popular, too:

I loved this guy's song "Ghost riders in the sky"

... and Peggy's "Fever"

 "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)"

The voice of this may was heard all the way from Italy:
I didn't understand the word what he was singing about but the song was wonderful to my ears.

There were some really good singers in ex Yugoslavia as well:

The song "Strangers in the night", one of Sinatra's greatest hits, was originally written by Ivo Robic for a music festival in Split, Croatia. Robic later recorded versions in Croatian ("Stranci u Noci") and in German ("Fremde in der Nacht"). English lyrics about love at first sight were written by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder.

I enjoyed reading comics magazine published in Belgrade "Kekec". The Croatian version was in Latin letters:

My mom and sister were reading this magazine:

Another comics magazine I started reading. Mostly for the Dan Dare Pilot of the future.

Another magazine at the time.

I liked watching Laurel and Hardy

Tempus fugit. Like everything else, the 1950's ended and the 1960's started, bringing some new worlds and views. I started going to school. The times of total freedom were over.
 I loved the vicinity of nature that came with our new home down by the river. There were ponds with fish, turtles and frogs. Wild birds, hares, weasels, musk rats were numerous. Unfortunately, the beauty of the nature came for a price.
 A few years later our house was flooded for several days. We lived on the upper floor in a surreal world on a sort of an island. I remember I was happy I didn't have to go to school, which was also flooded (the long building partly visible on the right).

The great flood of Zagreb in 1964

After the flood our street got asphalted and we got a telephone line. Our home was quite damaged by the water and mud. Alas, it wasn't insured.

A very interesting blog on old Zagreb in Croatian.

Monday, 10 February 2014

A bit of nostalgia Part 1

The strange distant world of my early childhood

How "strange" and distant seems to me the world in the late 1950's, when I lived in downtown Zagreb and when the  rock&roll was still young. I was eagerly waiting for Sundays to watch the new westerns at some of the numerous movie theatres. My father had three rather demanding tasks on Sunday mornings: to buy groceries at the farmers market, to buy a rye bread with seeds at the best bakery in town and to get the thickets for the film. If it was a new western and in colour, the chances were slim of getting the good seats, or even of getting them at all. Town's punks usually bought the vast number of the good seats and were scalping them before the show. Of course, my father had to make it back home in time for my mother to prepare a Sunday lunch for the family.
 Those happy times are long gone, but still not forgotten.

Zagreb, Croatia in 1958. My home town for decades. It was still a part of the now ex Yugoslavia. A photograph (above) was taken from the roof of the Main railway station (built at the turn of the century). In the Autumn of 1958, we moved from our small apartment near the town's centre to the house we bought. The house was near the river Sava and was actually in a suburbia at the time. No need to mention, the house has "virtually moved" since then and has been in the middle of the town for a few decades now.

Another view from the station:

The new part of town. You can see the modern Le Corbusier style buildings and the broad avenue, but the traffic is ridiculously scarce for today's standards.

Below is the raft at the Sava river where I spent many happy days with my parents. Unfortunately, the river became a cloaca in the next few years that followed, due to the rapid urban and industrial development. The various species of fish vanished from the dirty waters.

A statue near the city zoo and the stadium. I don't know what is this Bactrian camel doing here and why it is admiring the statue?

 Park Maksimir (where do zoological garden still is) entrance (1960)

The main square in Zagreb (below). Initially it was  called Jelachic Platz after the mid 19th century Croatian Governor and a victorious general. Under the communist regime, his statue was brought down and the square renamed (Trg Republike- The Republic square). After the deconstruction of Yugoslavia, the monument was resembled, mounted and the square got his old name back.

The main square in 1957.

One of the busiest and longest streets: Ilica

The main theme of the film the Bridge on the River Kwai was very catchy and was frequented on the radio stations. Everybody was whistling it. At the time, I didn't know I'll be visiting Thailand. However, I didn't go north were the river flows and the movie was in fact shot in Burma. Our Thai guide Charlie was convinced the main role has been played by Gregory Peck. He couldn't be argued to change his wrong idea.

I loved Peck's role in Moby Dick, but nowadays I don't want to see even the fake whales killed.

The movie scores from these two films: Johnny Guitar and The 3rd Man" were also immensely popular.

 Other films showing at the time:

Of course, I loved animated films. Disney's Peter Pan was among my favourites:

Short Disney's funnies were also a treat.

Not a bad western, but not great either:

Brando was a rising star.

A very good war-antiwar movie

The Tom and Jerry and Disney's cartoons were often showing on the main square in the evening.

The books I loved (this one is by Rachew):

At first, this style was too weird for me, but I've learnt to appreciate it:

The Beaver Valley was the first TV show I saw in 1957. It was at the neighbour's apartment. My family bought our first TV set sometime in 1965 or 1966, a year of two after the great flood.