Enis Čišić: From Bosnia to Marvel

Cover photo: Nikola Blagojević

Enis Čišić is obsessed with his job. He is a freelance visual artist from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) whose first encounter with a pencil – inspired by pictures from encyclopedias, picture books and a favorite television program – began in the 1980s.

Although he absorbed ideas from various media, his creativity was mostly awakened after watching animated or feature films, after which Enis would take a pencil and try to reproduce on paper what he saw on the screen. Ever since then, the strong desire to express himself through drawing simply grew and grew.

“Proof of my interest in the visual narrative are the drawings I found in a photo album, probably made when I was six years old. They are scenes of a plane fight that I saw in a partisan film. I would set up the planes and start drawing their positions and the dynamics of the fight in the air until the paper was completely covered. It was all forming before my eyes as I drew.  I did not separate it out through frames, but it was all one drawing until the paper became congested with lines, and the shapes of the planes could no longer be recognized. It was only later that I learned that image montage has a better effect, and that’s when my first comic was created,” Enis recalls.

Between agency work and freelancing

Before putting his career as an illustrator and comic book artist first, Enis worked in the advertising industry. However, he wanted a change and decided to leave his agency job. He was grateful for everything he had learned working in advertising, and from the people with whom he had worked, but the desire to dedicate himself to comics was stronger.

“The change happened when I got hired for Marvel Comics and it wasn’t possible to work in two places at the same time. My decision was the right one and very important for my career, and if I hadn’t made it I probably wouldn’t be where I am now. However, I do that quite often. I change my course because I like changes and I try to get out of my comfort zone as often as possible,” he adds.

Enis Čišić is an illustrator, cartoonist and designer from Sarajevo. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts, with his Frames concept. Illustration.

Enis is interested and motivated by lots of different things. So far, he has done illustrations for books, background illustrations for commercials, animation, and storyboards for movies. He collaborates with various artists, from musicians to directors and writers. He says that he likes to cooperate and socialize with people who know more than him, and that he does not limit himself in the way he shapes his or someone else’s ideas.

The comic scene in the Balkans

Comics are part of a large industry and go hand in hand with the gaming and film industries. America, Italy and France are the most productive countries in the field of the ninth art, with an astronomical number of annual editions between them.

Enis explains that the Balkans had a long tradition of comics before the war. There were serious comics and an even more serious culture of reading them, but the situation changed after the war. The comic scene in the Balkans has started to develop again, but BiH has lagged behind.

“We don’t have a single comic book publisher, only a small number of enthusiasts who probably have to finance their own publications. The situation is much better in the neighbouring countries because there are a lot of quality comic book publishers. Fibra is definitely the number one in Croatia, and there’s Darkwood and Happy Thursday (Veseli četvrtak) in Serbia,” he says.

He adds however that BiH can boast of comic shops in several cities, as well as comic festivals. He singles out Salon stripa in Laktaši and Mostrip in Mostar.

“These people do a great job of promoting comics through exhibitions, forums, lectures, workshops and the like. There are interesting statistics that I have heard about, that there are approximately 47 comic book festivals in the former Yugoslavia, which is a larger number than in the whole of France, which has a very strong comic market. But again, all cartoonists are looking for a job with foreign publishers, because in the end there aren’t enough readers in this area to be able to make a living from the art,” explains Enis.

When a little boy’s dream came true

Enis used to practice drawing by studying the works of Marvel artists. As a boy, he would copy John Busceme’s Spiderman, and then as an adult he was actually given the opportunity to draw characters like Spiderman, Iron Man and the Hulk. The work for Marvel Comics came as a result of many years of work on his portfolio, and a little luck.

His works include comic book pages for Marvel comics that were published all over the world, and illustrations which were exhibited in international galleries. Illustration.

“Luckily, Marvel Scout for Talents, CB Cebulski, came to this area in search of new cartoonists at the Mafest comics festival, which is organized every year in Makarska. It was a unique opportunity to show my work. There were a lot of cartoonists from the region and I honestly didn’t expect to get the job. After talking to Cebulski, I got a few rehearsal comic scripts and had to choose one of those scripts out of which I did six test pages of a comic. Following that, I got a contract and started working on my first project immediately.” And so his story with Marvel began.

Reliving the siege of Sarajevo through comics

The public might also know this talented cartoonist through illustrations of the comic The Secret of Nikola Tesla, based on one of the stories from The Secret of Raspberry Jam (Tajna džema od malina), by the famous Bosnian writer and journalist Karim Zaimović (1971-1995) who tragically passed at the end of the war.

“Writer and journalist Aleksandar Brezar came up with the idea to turn one of the short stories from the collection The Secret of Raspberry Jam into a comic, so he got in touch with me. Working on that comic was very important to me because I got a chance to adapt a piece of what Karim had created. It was also an opportunity to revive his work through the medium that Karim loved so much. I brought a lot of my memories from the siege period into the comic.  I wanted to visualize the scenes of the city from that time and create a portrait of the city as I remember it. Karim wrote texts about comics as well as scripts for his future comics at a time when I was reading and dreaming about working on a script,” explains Enis.

How is a comic created?

All comic book lovers appreciate the work put into it and Enis points out how drawing a comic is actually a multidisciplinary job: a cartoonist must be a director of photography, character and costume designer, set designer, cameraman, and editor. Each bit of work on a comic requires extensive preparation and the amount of work to be done depends on the number of pages and the complexity of the story.

“A cartoonist who has practiced the craft well uses creative processes to translate the text into pictures and thus tell the story. With that story, you communicate directly or indirectly with the audience in the hope that you will awaken certain feelings in them, which is why comics are as important as any other art,” he says.

So far, Enis has had the opportunity to draw characters such as Iron Man, Spiderman, Captain America, Hulk, and Nick Fury. Illustration.

Enis’s work begins with reading a page of the script which he breaks into several pictures that describe the transition between the beginning and end of a certain sequence.

“After that, I draw a storyboard or a rough sketch of the comic page. It takes me three to four days to complete one page that has an average of 5 to 8 frames, while for example for Marvel I had to work one page a day due to short deadlines. I have my own rhythm by which I complete my daily tasks, depending on the project and deadlines, so I don’t really pay attention to working hours.”

He isn’t one for movie adaptations

Although he has collaborated with the famous Marvel, which includes a whole series of films based on comic book heroes, Enis rarely watches comic book adaptations, because, as he says, everything has become banal and looks the same.

When it comes to his favorite comic, it’s hard to single out just one.  Some are dear to him just because of the drawings, and some because of the story.

“The Yugoslav comic magazines Spunk and Strip Art are always an inspiration to me because that’s where I discovered European and other international authors such as Jean Giraud Moebius and Juan Giménez, and their influence on me is indescribable. Both artists collaborated with Alejandra Jodorowsky on plans to make a film adaptation of my favorite novel, Frank Herbert’s Dune.  Moebius drew a storyboard and designed the characters, but after filming fell through, Jodorowsky did a comic book instead, inspired by Duney, called Metabarons,” Enis recalls.

His plans for the future are constantly changing, but his goals, he says, remain the same, and he wants to continue doing the things he dreamed about as a boy.

“Some of these dreams are difficult to make happen here, so my direction is oriented across the border. I try to connect my experiences of using different tools in visual art, be it comics, illustration or animation, because I think it is important to adapt today. Technology is changing, and so are the tools I use. What is more important is that ideas and concepts must be the pillar of everything,” concludes illustrator and comic artist Enis Čišić.

Anja is a trained Balkan Diskurs correspondent from Banja Luka. She holds a degree in journalism and communication from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Banja Luka, and a master's degree in journalism from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb, where she currently lives and works. She gained journalistic experience writing for certain BiH media, and spent two years as a journalist on one students' platform, where she dealt with topics from everyday student life and the education sector. In March 2021, she returned to the civil sector and joined the SOLIDARNA Foundation team as a program assistant.

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