THE ZEN COMICS STORY BY IOANNA SALAJAN I started studying Zen in the late 1950’s, when I was 18 and going to Art College. One day I was in Joseph Fox’s cosy bookshop in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) and as I was browsing through the shelves, Paul Rep’s book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, literally fell on my head. I browsed through it and had my own little satori – this was for me! Zen spoke directly to my head, my heart, and my curiosity. Some years later I met my Zen master, Roshi John Garrie, with whom I studied until his death in 1999. Then in 1972, when I was working in the Kosmos Meditation Centre in Amsterdam, a group of us decided to publish a bi-lingual magazine Cosmic Paper, (Dutch and English) with articles, art work, and notices about the alternative life style that was then growing not only in the Netherlands but in many parts of the world. The comics were born out of the need of this “underground” paper to add a little humour to the more serious side of mind expansion. I was part of the art staff, doing design, layout, and editing, and we were looking out for a good comic. However no one was coming up with a viable strip. The hunt was on. So one night as I lay asleep the monk and number one disciple snuck into my dreams and at 3 AM I sat bolt upright in bed with the first comic full blown in my imagination. I remember the first phrase that came out of this dream “Hey, Zen would make a great comic!” So up to my drawing board at 3AM and the first Zen Comics were born, (page 27 of Zen Comics I). The staff of Cosmic Paper also liked the idea and so every issue thereafter had one or two strips. Readers of the comics found that koans in comic form made the essence of Zen readily accessible to a general public. Many people asked me “why you don’t publish a book of these comics.” After thinking about that for a while I said to myself, “Why not”. So I had the comics privately printed in a limited edition on recycled paper (of course), These Zen Comics then became an instant success in the Underground Press of that time and I was distributing them all over Holland, Belgium, England, Germany, and the United States. Since those years were the high point of the hippie days with people travelling along the California Amsterdam - India route many people bought the comics in Amsterdam and carried them all over the world.
After nearly a year of drawing, writing, and distributing the comics myself, I found that it was just too much for me to handle. I wanted to devote my time to drawing more comics, so looking through my library of Zen books I selected the publisher that I liked best, Charles E.Tuttle, of Tokyo, Japan. I wrote to them sending copies of the comics and proposing that they publish the book. By return post came a contract and royalty advance and so Zen Comics were launched worldwide. After the first Zen Comics came out (red cover) I received favourable reviews from many papers in the United States, and Japan, as well as much fan mail during the first year. One student of Zen from Switzerland wrote to me that her Korean Zen master Seung Sahn was learning English from the comics in preparation for a trip to the United States and using the comics as practice. Another joy I have in relation to fans is how many children & young people enjoy the comics. One of my youngest fans is Yancy Choquet from Spain, who started reading the comics when he was seven years old. Both the comics have also been translated into other languages, including Dutch, Finnish, Italian, Korean, and Thai. And hopefully soon we will have them in Spanish. It has been my pleasure to produce these books and my pleasure to hear from so many people that they enjoy, learn from, & have fun with reading Zen Comics.
Ioanna Salajan Ioanna Salajan drew the zen comics for Cosmic Paper -published by Kosmos in Amsterdam- of which she was one of the authors and editors, between 1972 and 1975. The strip became well known in the internationbal â€˜Underground Pressâ€™. All handdrawn and lettered in black ink, they depict famous koans and scenes from the Zen tradition, using a monk and a variety of sometimes dim-witted monks. Ioanna Salajan was born in the United States and began painting at an early age. After a few years at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, she came to Europe in 1959 and began a travelling-studying-painting life that drew her to Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Israel, Belgium, Holland, and Spain. During these journeying years she also studied and worked in a variety of fields: from painting, art restoration, teaching, archaeology to being a light show artist, Zen student, comics illustrator, and finally meditation teacher, astrological consultant, and master healer. Since 1980 she has been living in Spain on the Balearic Islands, first on Ibiza and now on Mallorca, where she carries on painting and teaching, leading meditation retreats twice a year (one in Spanish, one in English), and enjoying and sharing the beauty of life with her many friends and students. Ioanna died in February, 2011.