The man & the line

Midhat Ajanović Ajan



Monographic study of the work of

Nedeljko Dragić,

animator, cartoonist and comics author



Nedeljko Dragić is without doubt one of the most important creators not only in the Zagreb School but of cartoon films in general, if we accept this term as designating a particular sub-species within the medium of the animated image. However, because of several factors, not unimportant among them the author’s personal bohemian and nonchalant attitude to his work, his films and his other works have not to date been adequately studied.

Dragić’s film animation, and also his comic strips and cartoons, are works of great complexity and stratified symbolism. Instead of treating animated artificial movement as a mimetic reflection of reality, as the great majority of his colleagues worldwide does, Dragić was practically from the beginning of his career interested in the concept of idea in motion, thought brought to life, visual anthropology and, especially topical in our time, documentary animation. For Dragić the viewer is an active consumer, and for him the act of projection is inter-subjective communication, an approach that has only become customary in our postmodern time. This, of course, is not the result of coincidence but of the intuition of an author who is turned to the future with all the force of his creative energy.

This is why I decided on a combined form of monograph and author study, with emphasis on scholarly analysis and contextualisation in film history, not on the kind of text that is usually tailored to suit books of this kind. Therefore, the aim and purpose of this book is to lay an analytical foundation for the definitive contextualisation and evaluation of Nedeljko Dragić’s work in Croatian culture, and the development of the animation medium on the global level.

I planned the book on several levels, where each chapter takes us one step further towards some aspect of Dragić’s opus, unaffected by time and still as interesting and provocative today at it was about half a century ago, when the majority of his works were  created.

The introductory chapter is a collection of personal notes about meetings with Dragić and the birth of the idea about this book, a process that lasted for decades.

The second chapter focuses on Dragić the cartoonist, because, in my opinion, it was in this activity that all the preconditions developed which crucially determined the aesthetics of his animated films. Dragić the artist grew out of the the modern cartoon as a comical drawing, a drawn joke. The modern cartoon, whose prominant representative Saul Steinberg greatly influenced the formation of Dragić’s worlview as an author, is in the first place stamped by a wealth of symbolism and a grate range of of subjects which include practically all the basic philosophical issues about man and his world. Dragić’s experiences as a cartoonist fundamentally determined him as a cineste, animator, satirist and creator in general, sensitive to some of the basic moral issues of our time.

The third chapter deals with the history of the contacts between and intertwining of comics and animation as a context for understanding Dragić’s work. In this chapter analysis focuses on the comic Tupko, which Dragic made for Večernji list and which functions as a bridge not only between his cartoons and films, but also serves to bring his entire opus together into a coherent whole.

The fourth chapter is a presentation of Nedeljko Dragić’s films, based on his personal attitude to each of them and showing characteristic excerpts from their critical reception.

To completely understand the value of Dragić’s work, it must in my opinion be placed in the context of film history and global modernist processes in the animation medium, in the evolution of which an essential stage belongs to the phenomenon known as the Zagreb School. This is the purpose and ambition of the fifth chapter of the book. Dragić’s films grew out of and belong to the modernist wave that swept through animation from America after the 1940s and 1950s. This period brought a new trend in cartoon films, characterised by a different sensibility both in visual stylisation and approach to animation. This new current, known as limited animation in older film literature, meant a radical move away not only from the so-called Disney model but also from what was, for example, being created by Avery, Jones, Tashlin and other prominent authors in the Warner Bros. studio. Some important circumstances influenced this development of animation, such as the war, change of lifestyle, industrialisation, the appearance of television, which soon became the main distributor of the animated picture, modern design and art in general. All these tendencies, after an initial spur from the United States, found fertile soil in, among other places, the Zagreb Animation Studio, and Nedeljko Dragić was one of the leading promoters and practicians of this trend.

A precondition for any attempt to interpret Dragić’s work is the establishment of precise analytical instruments on which this analysis can be based. Therefore, the sixth chapter deals with animation semiotics, which has so far hardly ever appeared in its pure form, at least not in texts in languages that I know. I derived here this barely existent scholarly discipline from the relatively well-established film semiotics, because of the kindred nature of the moving picture in animation and film (photography), whose basic characteristics are highly coincidental. I also see a reason for this approach in the fact that film semiotics often treat animation in a rather confused and contradictory manner. I will build a specific model for interpreting Dragić’s animation in the first place on the basis of the work of Yuri Lotman, an Estonian structuralist semiotician.

The final chapter of the book is a long and detailed interview with Dragić himself, who comments all the essential issues concerning his work, the Zagreb School and animation in general from his own point of view.


Midhat Ajanović Ajan

(Göteborg, April 2012)