Life Between the Clouds

Author: Ivica Ivanišević

Nobody has ever told me that I live in the clouds. If we were to follow the traditional division of people into the laid-back and uptight ones, I would always end up being that boring other. At all times prepared for the worst scenario, firmly grounded – for protectors and isolation sparing no expense – forever and ever the embodiment of the socialist slogan that could be heard in the civil defense classes: „Nothing should surprise us“. While the others were carried away by their fantasies, bigoted little ol' me got himself into the role of corpo morto (for those not born on the seaside – it is a concrete bloc that, once put on the seafloor, serves for anchoring vessels and attaching buoys).

If anybody ever dared to reproach me for living in the clouds, without a second thought I would admit that they're right. The fact that I am formatted as a geek, that I am relatively responsible and reliable, doesn't say anything about what is happening in my head. And it is much more lively and fun in there than around it. I guess you'll have to take my word for it. My need to meet the expectations that are presented to me in my daily life has always gone hand in hand with the need to switch off from that life, regularly and frequently. As the matter of fact, if I were bound to live that one single life, the real and undeniable one, I would certainly go crazy. I found my salvage – and I still do – between the clouds. And the first one which entered my life was almost literal. 

The Croatian word for comic book – strip – is taken from the English language and it actually represents a strap, a sequence. Yet, its emblematic sign is the cloud in which the dialogue is written. A white bulk of feathery, soft shapes ends with a spike pointing at the face of the speaker – the hero that has something important to tell us. I experienced this protrusion of the cloud as the authors' extended hand that kindly invites me to leave my world, at least for a little bit, and to inhabit theirs. 

The first thing that the comic books taught me is that the escape is possible. That a kid, residing in the apartment at Workers' Boulevard no. 10, studying at the Elementary School Ruđer Bošković at Spinut, can ignore, without breaking a sweat, the determined features of his short biography, that it only takes for me to decide, and in the next second I will find myself in any place I want. On the streets of some American metropolis, in the prairie, in the jungle, in the middle of the ocean, or in the vastness of space. Comic book issue wasn't only a nicely illustrated booklet that tells some enthralling, adventurous tale, but also a travel document, a passport, a visa, a green card, an ausweiss, a V.I.P. ticket…The comic book prevailed over any transportation means, be it a car or a train, ship, airplane, or even a rocket, because they didn't only allow me to move through space, but also through time. In the morning, I would become a cowboy at the Triple Six ranch, where I would put the fear of God into desperados with beautiful Comanche and Red Dust on my side. In the afternoon, I would teleport from Wyoming and the second half of the nineteenth century to the planet of Mongo, where I would mess up the plans of the evil emperor Ming with Flash Gordon, doctor Hans Zarkov and irresistible Dale Arden. The perfectly unexciting, desperately predictable, hopelessly boring life of the school kid from Split was the same even with the comic book, hence perfectly unexciting, desperately predictable, and hopelessly boring, but in this way it was bearable.  

Comic books – not the books and films, they will come only later – made me discover an encouraging fact that the alternative always exists, at least in imagination. The fact that those second, third, fourth…options usually belong to the sphere of fantasy and not reality, doesn't change the matter at hand. Before the invention of the wheel, there was an idea about it, and you can be convinced that the whole cave was laughing at the dreamer who came up with it. All of our reality rose from the fantasy. If there wasn't for dreaming, until today we wouldn't walk on two legs, and we would be left somewhere in the evolutionary mezzanine. 

I couldn't convincingly explain to the adults my desire for the „picture books“, yet there was no need for such explanation when it came to my peers. We had the same needs and we met those needs in the same ways. In school, they were repeatedly telling us that we live in the most beautiful country in the world, and the strong forces of showbiz were racing to find the most impressive way to emphasize the fact that our hometown – Split, nothing more or less – is the very center of that beauty and grace. I couldn't wrap my head around it – how can you blow your own trumpet and play on repeat that local-patriot tune, how can you swear on the authenticity of our country's beauty when there are tens and hundreds of significantly more beautiful countries and regions in the world, finally, when there are epochs superior to the one we are destined to live in? And where are they? In the comic books, of course, where else could they be. And they have had such an impact on the symbolic imaginary of so many generations that they are no less real than the actual geographical regions and periods. 

I have one theory, maybe it will seem foolish to you, but as it wouldn't be the first time that I embarrass myself, I don't really care. I strongly believe that the ones who burned for comic books at the gentle age and managed to keep some of that flame later on, couldn't in any way become or remain nationalists. Frenchman Eric Lerouge (the son of Redbeard), Norseman Valiant, a prince born in Thula, in the vicinity of today's Trondheim, Trigo from the distant planet of Elektron, Modesty Blaise, a British citizen of mysterious descent (we only know that as a young girl, she ran away from the camp for the displaced people in Kalyros, Greece), Phantom, coming from the long line of the righteous, fathered by Englishman Christopher Walker on the territory of the imaginary African state of Bangalla, American Remington Kip Kirby…all of them became and remained mine as if they were my own flesh and blood, my closest relatives. All the Croatian hall of fame, from A to Z, all the noblemen famed for God knows what were not even fit to lace the boots of my friends gathered from all over hell's half acre, from all parts of the world and all times. Hand in hand with them I've been all around the world without moving from my couch. But that's not all – they made all the meridians and parallels intersect right in the middle of my apartment. As the years passed, I changed addresses, even cities, and they faithfully followed me, as they still do. Somehow, I always find myself amid suspenseful action and adventures larger than life. How many people have I saved, how many countries have I freed, how many beauties have I seduced, how many medals have I earned…And never has anything bad happened to me, I have never been left in the cold and rain, I traveled business class for a few dimes, everyday living two-three different lives – as many as there were comic books on the kiosk, and God knows we weren't lacking any. 

If we believe to Plutarh, on one occasion, when Gneus Pompeius Magnus got pissed at the sailors because they didn't want to cast off to Rome with a load of grains, he said: „To sail is a necessity, to live is not“ („Navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse.“) With this sentence he wanted to say that sailing is more important than life, because it is its prerequisite; if we were constantly bound to the land, we would be destined to decay and disappear. Usually, I cannot find a common language with the professional warriors, but I cannot but agree with Gneus Pompeius Magnus's wise insight, although I would broaden it a bit: „To escape is the necessity, not only to sail“. Let the people without imagination escape with boats, cars, trains, and planes, my means of fleeing are cheaper, more comfortable, much more reliable, and fun. They go by the name of comic books and they regularly operate on the route land-clouds. Please be invited to come aboard – there is space for everyone.