The other day, I talked to Ilija, this year’s resident in Angoulême. Interestingly, he had the same questions that I had in my head last year, what to expect, how to welcome him, what to bring, what he will already have when he comes to Angoulême. It is exciting how only 6 months have passed since my stay in Angoulême, and I feel like I have never had all those questions in my head. I hastily shared the answers, I instructed him, and I assured him that everything would be great, just like it was for me.
I did not expect that my project would be chosen. However, I had already defended it before several commissions. Although I knew that the scientific community in Belgium considered my project important, I was not sure about the artistic side. The news that my project was chosen probably came at the worst possible time. It was the middle of a pandemic, closed borders, shifting schedules, lockdowns… Still, I feel that this period was the most beautiful for me in the past few years.
I set off from Belgium, where I currently live, one train, another train, and between visits to the Paris’ Metro. Did you know that I have been below the surface of Paris 6 times so far and that I have never really seen it? I know, crazy! The transfer train was in Disneyland, which was closed during the pandemic and even a little scary. A few hours later, I found myself at the station among the comic book heroes, Garfield, Lucky Luke, Tin Tin… The exact second you get off the train, you are drawn into one big comic story. Angoulême is Disneyland for comic book lovers. The streets are dressed in comic boards. Even the names of the streets are written in comic balloons! There is a love for comics in the air.
Brigitte from the House of Artists met me at the station and drove me to the apartment where I would spend the next two months. There was also a shelf with comics waiting for me in the apartment. In it, I found comics of Jugoslav Vlahovic and Aleksandar Zograf, which, as they told me, were most likely left by Nina Bunjevac during her stay in the apartment. It was as if someone knew that finding these books would make me feel even more at home.
The studio is a few minutes away from the apartment, so I started working the next day smoothly. The plan was to finish 4 short stories of 4 comic pages and experiment with a few ideas. I really wanted to work on silent comics and comics in polyptych. The polyptych is when comic panels can be read as individual scenes, but if you look at the whole page, the panels make up one illustration). I wanted to show the memory of the monotony of doing homework in mathematics in childhood. It seemed to me that the polyptych form would allow me to create a scene in which time and space meet in an unusual way. It may seem easy, but there was more math and arithmetic than drawing hehe. So I made monotony childhood’s homework both on paper and in my studio in the middle of France. I’m kidding, it was challenging, and I enjoyed trying to make what I imagined back then.
In the meantime, I met a roommate in the studio, who instructed me to share the wall with another comic artist from Serbia, Ivan Stojković. Since then, I have had someone to talk to in Serbian, which is a real rarity since I started studying abroad. Ivan then introduced me to comics artists who were with us at the same time in the House of Authors, from Spain, Iran, France, America, Canada… And then my idea that a visit to Angoulême would be just work, work and work, got some fun included. Joint walks in nature, visits the Museum of Comics and the library, cooking together and enjoying French cheese and wines. It may sound like a cliché, but you can’t escape cheese and wine in France. Although it’s not like I tried. To balance the universe, I also brought a jar of ajvar and sweets, so my colleagues tried the joys of Serbia.
Weeks passed very quickly, and my productivity was higher than ever. Maybe it’s because the lockdown started soon. But it didn’t bother me much! The first narrative was ready in two weeks, and I was left to continue working. The next challenge was a silent narrative, in which I wanted to experiment with the boundaries of comics. What can I say if I can’t use words? Ever since I moved abroad, I adore silent comics because it allows me to enjoy the story regardless of whether I know the author’s language. Although it increasingly promotes comics in other languages, the Angoulême Comics Festival is still mostly flooded with books in French. My modest knowledge of French is not enough to enjoy the handful of comics the festival offers. In recent years, I have always been thrilled when I find a silent comic. That’s how the idea was born to try to make a comic without words. Every cartoonist will tell you how difficult (or just time consuming) the process of making a narrative is in the form of a picture. Something that can be explained in several sentences should be transferred to illustrations. Uh. To make it easier for me to enter the world of silent comics while writing the application for the cross-residence competition, I decided that one of the narratives should be without text. The idea was, try a short comic, see what you can do, how hard it is, so who knows, maybe one day you will be able to make a whole graphic novel just like that. And that means that the book can go to any market, there is no trouble with translation, and some next Dragana, when she visits the comic book festival, will be able to enjoy the book without using a Google translator. Don’t ask me anything; who knows how many comics I’ve read like that…
My stay was coming to an end, and I felt the need to find a way to return to Angoulême. Shortly after the residency, a university in Belgium announced a call to fund research in the field of art. I applied, and I believe precisely because I was a resident, I was granted funds to spend two months at the Museum and Library as a researcher. I told you already, cheese and wine can’t be escaped. The short narratives are over, and since returning from Angoulême, I have been using them as the basis for the graphic novel I am currently working on. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I already know that I would not have been able to improve my way of working so quickly in such a short time without the residency. There is no doubt that the financial independence and environment provided by the Cross Residency allowed me to make a massive step in my career.