Our company, SAF - Strip Art Features, was founded by Ervin Rustemagic in 1972, in Sarajevo, Bosnia (ex-Yugoslavia). One year before, Rustemagic -- then 19 -- had founded the comics magazine "Strip Art," which was published in Sarajevo and distributed in the entire ex-Yugoslavia. In 1984, "Strip Art" earned the prestigious "Yellow Kid" Award at the International Comic Convention in Lucca, Italy, for best comics magazine in the world.
From 1972 on, Rustemagic was very busy trying to put his little agency on the map. In the beginning he worked with a small number of authors and sold the publishing rights to their comics to foreign publishers. In mid-1970's he started working very ambitiously with some of the world's leading comics authors. Since at that time he was not able to finance production of new comics by himself, Ervin would in the beginning contact authors who had already produced comics and owned the rights to them, but did not exploit them anymore. Very soon he managed to put together an impressive catalogue of comics titles for international distribution. The list of SAF's authors was breathtaking.
One of these authors was American artist Warren Tufts. Ervin loved his series "Casey Ruggles" and "Lance," which used to be published in the 1950's, but could not be found anywhere later on. SAF acquired the rights to those two series and immediately managed to sell them to publishers in several countries, including Dupuis, one of the leading publishers of comics in the French language, which published the entire "Lance" series in color in their weekly magazine "Spirou."
Managing to gather under its roof quite a few big names from the international comics scene -- among them Hermann and Joe Kubert -- who were producing new series of their comics exclusively for SAF, in the 1980's, Strip Art Features became one of the world's top five rights and management houses, handling comics for more than 500 publishers worldwide.
Sarajevo, the home of SAF's headquarters, became a war-torn city in 1992. SAF's offices and the Rustemagic's house were completely destroyed, and Ervin got trapped in the city together with his family. More than 14,000 pieces of original art were lost in the flames that burned down SAF offices, including Hal Foster's "Prince Valiant" from 1956, numerous originals by Doug Wildey, Joe Kubert, Warren Tufts, Sergio Aragones, George McManus, Alex Raymond, Alfredo Andriola, Charles Schultz, Mort Walker, John Prentice, Al Williamson, Gordon Bess, Bud Sagendorf and other outstanding U.S. artists, as well as many pages by Argentinean artists, such as Arturo del Castillo, Alberto Breccia, Ernesto Garcia Seijas, Carlos Meglia, and countless originals by European comics authors, like Andre Franquin, Maurice Tillieux, Hermann, Martin Lodewijk, Pierre Tranchand, Philippe Bercovici, Giorgio Cavazzano, Attilio Micheluzzi, John Burns, Ronald Embleton, Ferdinando Tacconi, Jacovitti, and many, many others.
In October 1992, Ervin and his family moved to a room in the 'Holiday Inn' hotel in Sarajevo, half of which was open for foreign journalists only, while the other half was in ruins and under constant Serbian sniper and shell fire.
In early 1993, under a rain of shells and sniper fire, Miljenko Jergovic and late Karim Zaimovic, two well-known journalists from Sarajevo, came to the hotel to make an interview and a feature story with Rustemagic. The story was published in the Croatian weekly "Nedjeljna Dalmacija" on March 24, 1993, under the title "Culturocide." In it, the two journalists also described their meeting with Rustemagic:
"As he speaks, confined behind the four walls of the Sarajevo hell, Rustemagic never, not even for a moment, loses his calm, nor does a mild expression of irony ever leave his face. Even in a situation like this, he is a man of an American life story who never does anything to relativise or contest that. He admits to be wearing borrowed clothes, but never allows anyone to think of it as his misfortune -- he takes it as just one of those bizarre things that happened to him. Rustemagic is a man who has made it to the top and this fact is out of range of the Serbian artillery and high above Bosnian cadging."
The Rustemagic family managed to escape from the war at the end of 1993. In his book titled "Fax from Sarajevo,*" Joe Kubert described and illustrated what Ervin and his family had gone through during the war.
Thanks to his very strong relationships with artists and publishers, many of whom offered him support and help, Rustemagic was able to rebuild his business in a new country (Slovenia), in a relatively short period of time, putting SAF back on the map of the comics industry, and regaining the same respect and reputation that SAF always had and carefully guarded.
SAF's offices are now located at: Krpanova 1, 3000 Celje, Slovenia,
Ervin is proud of his young team, most of the guys being younger than SAF itself.
For those who do not know where Slovenia is, we are enclosing a small map. Slovenia has a population of 2 million. Its capital is Ljubljana (300,000 inhabitants), and Celje is the third largest city in the country.
*Fax from Sarajevo by Joe Kubert was published in English by Dark Horse Comics, in German by Carlsen Verlag, in French by Vertige Graphic, in Spanish by Planeta de Agostini and in Italian by Alessandro Editore. Publications in several other languages are in preparation.