The Man Who Perks Up A Nation Every Day

Marko Somborac Serbian Cartoonist BlicEvery morning, nearly 200,000 people in Serbia wake up to one political commentator. In a landscape that is cluttered with colourful characters, this man can command more attention than most political editors and his satirical slant on Serbia’s political shenanigans is more likely to be shared over email and coffee.

Yet this character choses not to wield his power to benefit any particular political party (despite their requests for his support). He prefers to remain as partial as any one in his position can be as he keeps his eyes peeled for what is most relevant – and funny – every day.

While his work is known to so many, few would recognise him if they passed him on the street. And he quite likes it that way. He is the much-admired political cartoonist for Blic newspaper.His name is Marko Somborac.

Morning Hit of Humour & Politics

Marko is more than just another cartoonist and even more than a popular graphic novelist. His influence is felt far wider than that. His cartoon strips in Serbia’s Blic newspaper have become a regularly shared part of the daily routine. For many who turn to Marko’s cartoon strip for their morning hit of humour, politics might not be their primary interest in life. But, with his popular style of satirical political commentary, Marko can bring politics to the breakfast table. For many people, Marko’s two or three frame sketches can sum up a mood better than ten times that in column inches.

To ensure that what he serves up is fresh each day, Marko needs to stay on top of the news agenda. He has developed a nose for what might be coming around the corner and can predict developments better than many political analysts. To deliver a topical daily cartoon strip related to what is fresh and of interest to its readers, Marko needs to think fast and work faster. Preparation is key, and there is far more reading than drawing involved in creating each day’s artwork.

“First off, I read tomorrow’s newspaper on the internet the evening before,’ Marko told Wild Rooster. “Maybe I get some ideas, maybe not. Then comes more reading. In the morning I follow daily happenings and try to think of something that would be nice for people to read.

Marko Somborac Serbian Cartoon Blic“Finding the themes isn’t hard. Everything that is a hot topic or is interesting can be in a comic. The hardest thing is to present them in a humorous way. If I see something interesting in some theme, I have to make it funny and there is no proven formula for that. But what I manage to came up with by the deadline, that is what you will see tomorrow in the paper.”

The Weight of Responsibility

Putting his own comic spin on the news, especially around topical poitiical issues, can carry a weight of responsibility. Perhaps as protection against this, Marko does not overthink the impact that his work might have. “I really don’t think about responsibility and the influence on the country of my little comic,’ he said. “But what I do know is that if I do it in a way that has quality, like some of my own role models, that would be good.”

With tongue firmly in cheek, he added: “I know that I can ask 10,000 people any time to become my private army and we can rule the city with an iron fist! I’m kidding of course. I’ll think I’m that powerful when I have a butler, personal trainer etc, but until than I just try to make good comics and that’s all. I try not to think of a master plan, I just do what I feel is a good cartoon.”

Refreshingly, in a market where media control and journalists’ independence is again being called into question, Marko says that he does not have need to look over his shoulder or satisfy any editorial line at Blic. “There are no strict guidelines,’ he said. “It would be a very bad thing for creative people. I think I have a lot of autonomy and I hope the readers can see that.”

Free of Political Agenda

As well as remaining free of any agenda set by his media bosses, Marko is also keen to avoid his own political views showing too prominently in his work. “My comics are not about some strict political agenda we should follow,’ he said.

Marko Somborac Blic Serbian Cartoonist

“They are about funny or horrible things happening in politics, about the characters and to provide a humorous look on daily things. I do my comics with the kind of humour I would like to read myself. Maybe sometimes you can see my views about civil rights within my comics, but I mainly try to do a funny comic, with the addition of how I see things.”

Blic owners should not have cause to worry. Marko’s work in the tabloid recently won the Desimir Tosić award, the prize for which includes his work being published as a book. This will not be the first time that Marko’s graphic work has had a life off the news pages, though. Last year Marko was presented to a new audience when an aclaimed exhibition of his work was hosted at Belgrade’s Kalemegdan. The reaction was so strong that the run was extended to satisfy the desire to see Marko’s work in a large format.

“It was great, comics printed in large formats, lot’s of people walking  through the park, queueing to see what was happening there,’ said Marko, who also illustrates childrens books. “There were people who knew my comics and also people who saw them for the first time, I heard. It had a good response so the exhibition duration was longer than planed. I don’t know if I’ll be able to top that, taking the location and the format into account. Maybe only with an exhibition in Knez Mihajlova, but not in the near future.”

Advertising Men & Political Marketers

Unsurprisingly, advertising men and political marketers have been knocking on Marko’s door, eager to tap into his popularity. For now though, political campaigning is not on his radar. “That is not a good thing for political cartoonists to do,’ he said. “If you are associated with some party you lose credibility, so I declined. But I have done design and copy for my godfather’s father for some little local campaign, but I wasn’t a very successful copywriter. We didn’t manage to win.” Cleary, Marko is a far better cartoonist than copywriter.

Marko, from the Serbian steel town of Smederevo, was drawn to a career in illustration from an early age. His love of drawing stemmed from a childhood surrounded by comic books, cartoons and graphic novels. “I started drawing in kindergarten, as in my house we collected magazines with comics and cartoons like Politikin Zabavnik and Osisani Jez,’ said Marko.

Marko Somborac Cartoon Serbia

“Newsstands had a lot of comics and, additionally, my father used to be cartoonist, so it was inevitable. Later, I went to design schools, I worked in design and animation studios and printing houses and, at the same time,  I drew cartoons and comics that were published in newspapers and magazines and I also do book illustrations. I began doing a not so popular comic (Stokici in V. Novosti) and then moved on to a very popular one, in Blic.”

Clearly, when it comes to clocking up career highlights, Marko has a lot to pick from. “I don’t know, maybe that exhibition, maybe the City of Belgrade award, maybe fact that people like to read my comic and I can do the job I like,’ he said. “I don’t think of great achievements. I try to make funny comics for tomorrow and if it’s good, there isn’t any time to relax, I have to do that again, day after day after day. If there is any achievement I would like it would be to make people laugh in the morning when they see my comic.”

Everyone has influences and Marko can call on an impressive list of cartoonists and graphic novelists to support his own style. “I have lots of influences,’ said Marko. “First the stuff everybody reads – Asterix, Lucky Luke and Alan Ford – then later Novi Kvadrat, Frank  Miller, Alan Moore, Bill Watterson and Moebius. Also cartoonists Dusan Petricic and Corax and, after I realised what I wanted to do, Mat Groening, Mike Peters, Mike Luckovitch and lots of stand up comedians, like Conan O’Brien and Woody Allen. I would share drinks with most of those named above.”

KostunicaTadić, Cvetković & Nikolić

One cartoon that attracted more than the usual attention was Marko’s depiction of a meeting with former President Boris Tadić at the Fourth of July celebrations at the US Embassy in Belgrade. Unusually, Marko drew himself into the artwork. “The event with the ex-president in the Embassy prompted me to do the comic as there was some very funny material,’ said Marko.

“Sometimes things happen and I decide to put myself in comics. But there wasn’t tension that day because that wasn’t our first meeting. I was in his office when he was still President. I hope he sticks around: I don’t like to draw many new faces.

“At these events I always try to get some inside information when that opportunity arrives, but that is very naïve of me. They are very good at not giving away any secret information. I try not to drink with politicians…in public, at least! Maybe I would say that the character in politics who inspired my work most would be ex-prime minister Kostunica. But he doesn’t drink. Or maybe only milk because he likes cats…”

Marko Somborac Kostunica

Former Prime Minister Mirko Cvetković attracted a good deal of criticism during his time in office, as well as being a target for Marko, who regularly drew him as an politically impotent janitor and caterer in Parliament. “In my mind, he said that he doesn’t find them annoying and I said ‘Ok, than we should continue with that…’, said Marko.

“Some ministers said he doesn’t like the comic that much. Otherwise, I do not know his reaction. But it is interesting that from his cabinet people are calling me all day to spend time with him in the office to see that he really doesn’t make coffee there.”

Despite the sharpness of his pen and the fun he pokes at those in power in Serbia, Marko claims that his work has not yet prompted any difficult calls from Parliament or the Presidential office. “The only bad reaction I have is when the comic isn’t funny,’ he said.

With so many characters to represent, it can be hard for Marko to nail down the ones who have made their biggest mark on his work. “I do not meet so many politicians,’ he said. “It’s not good for cartoonist to have much of those meetings, not for the comfort but because of credibility. I work from home so I didn’t see politicians when they would arrive in Blic to give an interview, back when that was the practice, and I don’t go to so many events. I don’t have much time to consider them. I always have a deadline.”

International Politics & Fantasy Football

As well as following daily politics at home, Marko has bigger fish in mind. He is developing a keen interest drawing ‘politicians with interesting characteristics’ such as Barack Obama, Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. Even British politicians have caught his eye. Despite this, Marko has not yet visited the UK. In typical style, he hopes that this dream might come true soon enough. “I hope that this year my Fantasy Football team will get me to those green and beautiful stadiums in the Premier League,’ he said. “If I win, of course. I like to watch the Premier League and play Fantasy Football but, for most other things, there is no time.”

Closer to home, Marko is saying little regarding Serbia’s current president, the former ultranationalist Tomislav Nikolić. He would rather let his ink do the talking. “His past isn’t that good, we will see about future,’ Marko said. “I am crossing my fingers.”

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