Cartoon superhero of the streets is Bosnia's symbol of survival: The creators of Bosman hope their comic will prepare children for a new war, reports Emma Daly in Sarajevo

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HE IS faster than Batman and braver than Superman. He is armed with 'justice and truth'. But, for all that, he is just a regular guy inside a colourful, indestructible tight-fitting uniform with a fleur-de-lis, the Bosnian coat of arms, on his chest.

He is Bosman, the hero of the first comic book published in Sarajevo since the war started.

Bosman faces dangers that are familiar to people in the Bosnian capital. His creators intended him to be everyman, spending time in the trenches and fighting Bosnian Serb extremists.

'Bosman is a symbol of the people who have survived this war, a symbol of the people who opposed the beast and who fought only with rifles,' said Enes Pehlivanovic, who works on the comic. 'This is not a fairy tale.'

The adventures of Bosman start when he sees Bosnian Serb nationalists, with Yugoslav tanks, planning the assault on Sarajevo.

He tries to warn friends of the impending slaughter. At the end of the first issue, the city is close to war.

However, Bosman's exploits inspire a mixed response from adults in Sarajevo, for whom self- deprecating humour is an art form. Far from seeing the character as their alter-ego, most react to his deeds with shrieks of laughter.

'It's true, we're heroes,' said one soldier, trying to keep a straight face.

'But I don't think I'm like this guy. He looks like a copy of Batman or Superman. It's the same guy, but they have put him in our environment.'

One of Bosman's creators, who asked to remain anonymous, said conflicts over the character had not been resolved.

With a square jaw like Clark Kent's and a priggish expression, 'he doesn't even look Bosnian,' he said.

'The children I know who read it said it was very nave, with some ridiculous situations. And they are children who live here, and are very familiar with reality.'

Others were kinder. Fatima Selak said: 'I think it's great and the kids are really interested.'

On the wall of the Bosman office, a former pool hall, a letter from a young fan is on display. 'I'm a refugee from (Serb-held) Vogosca. I'm glad that I have met you and I would like to congratulate you on your victory against evil,' wrote Denis, 12. 'I wish you would go to Vogosca and kill all our enemies. My father is on (Mount) Igman and I know nothing about him.'

Unfortunately, the events that Bosman reacts to and the bad guys he fights are all too real. . The fizz of a bullet, the rattle of a Kalashnikov and the rumble of a Yugoslav army tank are well known sounds to Bosman's readers. The publishers intended it that way, having a harsh message for children.

'This war happened to us. Nobody was prepared,' said Mr Pehlivanovic, who used to work for Oslobodenje, Sarajevo's daily newspaper. 'When we draw rifles or pistols for our children, it's not that we think they should play with guns, but perhaps that they need to be prepared for the next war.'

(Photograph omitted)

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