Adriatic squid and scorpion fish
I traveled to Croatia as a guest of the 13th Crtani Romani Sou, a comics festival in Zagreb. I had wanted to visit Croatia for quite awhile, but never thought I would. Croatia had published the first Usagi Yojimbo foreign edition. I remember when the publisher contacted me almost 15 years ago, my first question was, "Don't you have a war?" He replied, "No, that is Bosnia. It's almost 50 miles from where I am." Still, living in Los Angeles, 50 miles is not very far.
The 11 hour flight to Germany was bumpy at times, but I was still able to thumbnail Usagi #138. Connecting through Frankfurt is always an experience. I've missed three connections there over the past few years, and I always plan at least a 2 hour layover. Fortunately, my outbound flight to Zagreb was in the same terminal. Still, it took an hour to get to my gate. I did not have to go through passport control, but I did have to go through a long security check point.
The hour flight to Zagreb was pretty much uneventful, which is what I hope for. I went through passport control, and had my book stamped with a Zagreb mark. Festival director Slaven met me, and we drove to the Hotel Dubrovnik in downtown Zagreb.
The hotel has a business center, so I checked e-mails, and let Sharon know I had arrived. I met Darko Macan in the lobby, and he interviewed me for the local newpaper. He and I had corresponded since the Fantagraphics days. He is a talented writer and artist, and was twice nominated for Eisners. I learned that I had been pronouncing his name incorrectly all this time. The "c" in Croatian has a "ts" sound, so his name is pronounced "Mat-sin". Darko, Joseph his assistant, Slaven, Maja, Howard Chaykin (who had arrived earlier that day), and I walked to dinner. Much of the food seems to be Italian inspired, Italy being just across the strait. I had veal with mushrooms, and gnocchi.
Darko and me
I got back to the room by 10, but could not sleep until about 3 AM. It takes my body 3 days to adjust to a new time zone. I was looking forward to a good night's sleep on Saturday.
Friday, November 5
The alarm woke me after 2 hours of sleep, then, after an early breakfast, was driven to a television studio. I was to be interviewed on "Good Morning Croatia". We were running a few minutes late, so as soon as I stepped off the elevator a guy was untucking my shirt, fiddling with my belt, and speaking in Croatian. It took a second to realize he was affixing a mike onto me. I would have a simultaneous translation, so I also had an ear piece. Maja from the festival spoke about the upcoming event, and I talked about Usagi while doing a quick sketch. Our driver, who was hanging in the lobby with studio employees, said that no one was really paying attention to the monitors until the drawing started. Live drawing is always a crowd-pleaser. Once my segment was done, it was back to the hotel.
one of the festival posters
Darko took me on a tour of the Old Town. We walked past the law university, the old theater, then took the funicular up to the Kula Lortscak. I had been invited to do a watercolor drawing for a festival poster and T-shirt. Whenever I get such a request from a foreign festival or publisher I ask what is unique or a symbol of the area. I have drawn Usagi in front of Sugar Loaf in Brazil, fighting alongside a Winged Hussar in Poland, and running with the bulls in Spain. Slaven suggested the Kula Lortscak, a tower which is a Zagreb landmark. The funicular took us to the base of the tower. Everyday at noon, a shot is fired from the cannon on the top floor. We continued on to a square with a beautiful mosaic-ed tiled roofed church. The Parliment and the president's residence boxed in the square. We continued down the hill, across the street called The Blood Bridge, past a statue of St George and the Dragon, to the cathedral, the tallest building in the area. As we were about to enter the cathedral, we heard the cannon shot. We continued past the market square, still in daily use. Vendors are there daily hawking their fresh produce. Tangerines seemed to be in season. We lunched at an open air restaurant. The waiter suggested pasta with truffles, and it was delicious.
Darko walked me back to the hotel, and I pencilled a page before my 4:00 signing.
There was a steady stream of people at the signing. I signed books and did sketches. I do not do free sketches in the US because of the whole eBay thing, but will do them in Europe. I met Nebojsa Radic, my publisher, and we had coffee with his business partner, and friends.
The festival reception opened at 8PM with an exhibit of the history of Croatian comics art. There were a variety of styles through the generations from Disney-like humor, to detailed historical, to classical adventure, to modern superheroes. Croatia has a very talented art community. However, the country is too small to sustain an artist in itself, so many work for Italian, French, and US publishers.
Nebojsa, Marko (a writer), and I had a late dinner at a nearby seafood restaurant. We had appetizers of scampi risotto and black (squid ink) rice, a main course of scorpion fish and Adriatic squid, finishing with some local sheep cheese. I especially enjoyed the black rice and squid. The Adriatic squid is very flavorful, compared to the Pacific squid I am used to. It was a great meal with great companions.
Nebojsa had told me that it is a long-standing custom for young women to dress up and go to Zagreb on Saturday to be seen. Of course, it is the young men who are doing the looking. I have never seen a downtown area with so many people on a weekend, even moreso than on a weekday--and so many beautiful women. The Festival of Young Wine was taking place just up the street, and that really brought a party atmospere to the area. There were performances by acapella groups, folk dancers, traditional music, and other entertainment. There were "priests" and "nuns" dancing like priests and nuns should not. The big attractions, though were the stalls and stalls of vendors selling (and giving samples) of their wine. I found a Mediterranean cafe and, remembering how delicious the grilled squid was, had that with a side of potatoes with celery leaves. Again, delicious.
I did another signing at 4, after which I had a presentation. I had asked Darko to help me with translations, but everyone spoke English, so things went very smoothly. I went out with Slaven and festival volunteers to a traditional Croatian restaurant. I had a green salad, and Croatian meatball fingers.
grilled squid with potatoes and celery greens
pasta with truffles
the church at the turn in the road
the festival of new wine
the underground market
the Zagreb church
Next: Plitvice, Dubrovnik, and I miss the president