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Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Jewish Side of TCAF 2007

This weekend, Torontonians and visitors to Toronto will be able to experience the 3rd TCAF (Toronto Comic Arts Festival). at Victoria College (on the University of Toronto campus).

There will be a diversity of publishers, writers, and artists at exhibitor tables showing off their wares, selling their products, signing their work and some will probably even do free sketches if you ask them nicely.

Among the guests will be people who have done what I classify as "Jewish comix work".

* Dave Sim
Dave Sim is internationally renown for his epic CEREBUS series, now completed in over 15 collected volumes. Since the completion of Cerebus, Sim has begun working on a series of new projects, some of which will debut at or just before TCAF this August. For those of you that miss seeing Cerebus on the stands, take note: Following Cerebus, a zine dedicated to the series and to its creators continues to be released several times per year.

The second-to-last collected trade paperback in the Cerebus collection was Latter Days, which reprinted Cerebus #266-288, in which Cerebus becomes "The Rabbi" and which has the only appearance of the Ben Gurions of the Universe.
Please note: Dave Sim will only be appearing on Saturday, August 18th.

* Cameron Stewart
Artist Cameron Stewart is probably best known for illustrating the adventures SEAGUY (co-created with Grant Morrison), SEVEN SOLDIERS: GUARDIAN, and CATWOMAN for DC Comics. He recently illustrated the Eisner Award-nominated Vietnam war graphic novel THE OTHER SIDE, and this summer will see the release of the new graphic novel APOCALIPSTIX from Oni Press, with co-creator Ray Fawkes.

The first issue of Seven Soldiers : The Manhattan Guardian had the title hero face off against a Jewish golem. Alas, the word YHWH wasn't done from right-to-left as Cameron was trying to get done, but it's still a nice effort.

* Sarah Dyer & Evan Dorkin
Sarah Dyer is a writer/artist/colourist, and founder/editor of the ACTION GIRL! comics anthology. She's coloured just about every illustration husband Evan Dorkin has ever made, and in addition she also runs, a collection of articles and commentary on more "domestic" pursuits.

The notorious creator of MILK & CHEESE and DORK will be joining the Toronto Comic Arts Festival for his first-ever comics event in Toronto! After starting at Marvel Comics, Dorkin made his name on hip, contemporary looks at youth in popular culture through his series HECTIC PLANET and his short humour strips in anthologies including INSTANT PIANO. Currently, Dorkin's work can be seen in annual issues of DORK and in Nickelodeon Magazine, MAD Magazine, and on the cover of the new Larry Doyle novel I Love You Beth Cooper. Also this summer, Slave Labor Graphics will release vinyl toy figures of MILK & CHEESE, and we've all got our fingers crossed that they'll show up in time for TCAF.

Back in mid-Jan. 2004, Dorkin made reference in his Livejournal to a "fully-drawn 16 page One Punch Goldberg story waiting for when we can find the time to put together the long delayed Action Girl Co-Ed Special". One Punch Goldberg has been described as a "female Jewish boxer".

* Paul Gravett
Paul Gravett is a London-based freelance journalist, curator, lecturer, writer and broadcaster, who has worked in comics publishing and promotion for over twenty years, including co-publishing the highly-influential ECLIPSE from 1983-1989.
His extensive knowledge of comics and graphic novels is reflected in his two books, GRAPHIC NOVELS: STORIES TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE and MANGA: 60 YEARS OF JAPANESE CULTURE. The former is a rich, layered examination of contemporary graphic novels; a wonderful entry point for newcomers to the medium and a wonderful guide to the breadth of material available for even the most advanced reader. Meanwhile, his book on Manga has quickly become the book of note on an iteration of the comics medium that is gripping the world. His most recent book, GREAT BRITISH COMICS, is a very thick one that covers exactly what the title promises.
Paul Gravett will be speaking on multiple subjects at TCAF, please see the Events page for further details.

Paul Gravett is the author of the online essay "After Maus : The Jewish Experience in American Graphic Novels" (circa 2002) and the essay "De l’influence des quelques auteurs juifs sur les graphic novels" in the ever-delayed French anthology La diaspora des bulles : bandes dessinees et judeites (DenoĆ«l, 2007?). Paul also moderated 2 panels on Jewish graphic novels at the annual Jewish Book Week in London, England in 2006 and 2007.

* Paul Pope
In America, he's been called the "comics destroyer;" in France, he's been called the "Jim Morrison of comics" and "comics' Petit Prince." New York’s Paul Pope creates comics that defy genre and period, straddling the line between artistic capriciousness and commercial appeal. One of a handful of young cartoonists consistently gaining critical praise and media attention, Pope has been featured in Canada on MuchMusic and Space channel, among others, and his work has appeared in print outlets like Spin, Entertainment Weekly, Jalouse, V Magazine and The Village Voice. He is also the only American cartoonist to have worked for Japan's largest manga publisher (Kodansha), for more than five years now. Pope’s recent work includes the near-future sci-fi romance 100%, the career spanning THB, as well as recent stints on iconic comic character series like Batman and Spider-Man. Just in time for TCAF, Adhouse Books will release PULPHOPE: THE ART OF PAUL POPE. It's going to be great.

Paul wrote and illustrated the story "Berlin Batman" in The Batman Chronicles #11, in which Batman is a Jewish painter named Baruch Wane.

* Emily Holton
Emily Holton will be debuting her new book, Little Lessons In Safety at the Conundrum Press table (see publisher listings for signing times). It is a collection of Holton's bookworks and drawings, produced over the past five years. Her "scratchy intelligent line drawings" (Broken Pencil) and lean text play with the format of children's readers, comics, celebrity fashion magazines, and cut and paste murder mysteries. Smart, strange, and funny, Holton's work recalls artist Raymond Pettibon, filmmaker Miranda July and southern gothic writer Carson McCullers - all at once. There is a boy with a bird for hair, feral children who grow up to be cowboys, treeplanters who never come back, and fashionista Karl Lagerfeld perfoming a bris. Her stories, "exploring a richer, weirder understanding of language and sentiment" (Brian Joseph Davis), reveal themselves in layers - eerily straightforward and yet never quite what they seem.

* Miss Lasko-Gross
Though not listed as a guest at the TCAF website, Miss announced in a ComicSpace Bulletin that she will be there. Apparently she will be sharing a table with Becky and Hwan.

Miss is the author-illustrator of the autobiographical graphic book Escape from "Special". From an online review : "For Melissa, special is a title bestowed upon her by parents, teachers and other adults in her life. She doesn't quite fit in with those around her. She continually finds herself in awkward situations that further alienate her from family, friends, and classmates. Her leftist Jewish parents attempt to help via therapists, new schools, and surprise parties, but of course, these fall miserably flat or worse, backfire on Melissa."

* James Turner
James Turner is a Toronto illustrator whose first graphic novel, NIL, sort of came out of nowhere and surprised an awful lot of people with how very good, and unique, it is. James has since created the ongoing comic series REX LIBRIS, about a team of gun-wielding librarians, which has become quite popular indeed.

No Jewish comix work (yet) as far as I know, but I felt I also had to acknowledge the only cartoonist in attendance who is writing a comic series about librarians --- gun-wielding librarians, yet. I'll need to remember that one if I ever decide to start a "Librarians in Comics" blog.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Israeli Comics Cartoon and Animation Festival 2007

from the July 29, 2007 Haaretz, as reprinted at the Haaretz website.

An uncensored alternative to mainstream comics
by Nirit Anderman

There were dolls representing Superman, Spiderman and X-men, crates full of comic books featuring Batman, Wonder Woman, Hulk and the other American super heroes, book stands run by publishers like Keter, Am Oved and Modan, dozens of colorful comic books in Hebrew and English on chromo paper, computer games, a television journalist wandering among the stands - dressed up as Catwoman - fingering the furry ears on top of her head as she chatted with children and teens smiling shyly at the camera, and excited children who pull their tired parents from one stand to another.

In the hustle and bustle of the third Israeli Comics Cartoon and Animation Festival held at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque lobby last week, only the sharp-eyed would have noticed the pale poster with the colored felt marker letters indicating the location of the alternative comics exhibition on the upper floor, above the washrooms. The lights at that exhibition were a bit dimmer, while the stands - which primarily displayed amateurish, homemade looking comic books without colors or chromo paper - were set up close to each other beside the staircase. The throngs of festival visitors did not reach the alternative exhibition, nor did the cool climate-controlled air from below. Two large industrial fans stood on the floor doing their best to move the humid air a bit, occasionally lifting a rogue comic book into the air, where it fluttered and fell to the floor.

Miri Kluner, who offered editions of her comic book, "Anti," recalled how for a moment in the afternoon, a cool breeze had swept through the area. That happened, she says with sparkling eyes, when the movie ended, and the air-conditioned theater's doors opened. "After that, we tried to open the doors again to enjoy some of the air conditioning, but we couldn't."

This year, for the first time, the festival's management decided to give the alternative comics their own space in order to enlarge the variety of cartoon styles on display at the festival. "It is important for us to provide a stage for the youngsters who are fresher and uncensored, who cannot publish professionally," says Nissim Hizkiyahu, the festival's art director. The cartoonists were asked to pay only a symbolic fee for their stands at which they sold their creations during the the three days of the festival. The display was comprised of 10 stands, and most of the salespeople were the creators themselves.

On the festival's second day, they got fed up with the intense heat and their distance from the visitors below, and realized that, as always, there must be an alternative. Assi Halfon, 16, was the spearhead, and the others followed him. One after the other, they gathered up their stands, took them down the stairs, and set them up at the cinematheque entrance. Next year, says Hizkiyahu, management will try to find a solution to the problem of the air conditioning too.

NIS 1 per page

"Format: A4, illustrated on both sides of the page. Means: Photocopy machine. The mandate: The small group has complete freedom not to accept decisions. Anarchy. All are invited. Let each person draw as he sees fit. Pluralism. Deviance. Tits and ass. No selections. No direction. No God. Everything is distributed, the strong sells." This is how the independent A4 comics group defined itself on the inside cover of the six comic books it published for the festival.

At the group's stand, beside the books, there was also a stack of A4 paper with black-and-white comics depicted on them in a print quality that could not be described as enviable.

"Part of our concept is the fanzine look," explains Yuval Caspi, one of the group's founders and coordinator of festival activities for the alternative exhibition. "We are a group of pluralists that accepts anyone who draws cartoons. We never refuse anyone." Each comics page sells for a shekel, and every 16-page comic book costs NIS 15.

The group has its own web site (, which, Caspi says, registers about 200 visitors a day. The site has an active forum that cartoonists can use to upload their works, and therefore, join the group.

"We already have about 150 cartoonists," says Caspi. "One or two new ones join each day. We have sold about 3,000 A4 pages so far." Caspi notes that all revenues are used toward printing costs and for hosting events at which the comics are sold. Alongside known artists who are members (Dudu Geva, Zev Engelmeier, Uri Fink), the group includes young artists, mostly aged 15-16.

The group does not censor content. Thus, for example, one can find an A4 comic book with stories about an Israel Defense Forces soldier who is a suicide bomber, dubious connections between Ilan Ramon and Omri Sharon, the adventures of a talking cup, and a tour of Chen Blvd. in Tel Aviv with a dog who prefers his own kind.

"We are not mainstream," says Caspi. "Anyone can write about sex, violence, drugs, politics or even a simple love story."

More than an industry of individuals

The group was founded about five months ago at the initiative of Caspi, Geva, Rani Levanon, Boaz Kadman and a few others. "We wanted comics to be more than an industry of a few individuals, that it should become something more popular, that anyone who wanted to express himself could put out a comic book," Geva says. "[We wanted] to give an opportunity to every child, every old woman, everyone who couldn't afford to publish works on his own."

Geva took upon himself the printing of the first 100 of the group's cartoons on his home photocopier. "I made 50 copies of each page, on both sides of the page, which comes out to about 10,000 copies," he says. "I felt like a print shop owner, a small Communist contributing to mankind."

Another group of artists that exhibited in the alternative comics exhibition was the Dimona group, whose five members have been operating together for a year-and-a-half. The five - Sagi Morad, Michal Baruch, Merav Shaul, Yifat Cohen and Amitai Sandy - studied design at either Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design or Vital, the Tel Aviv Center for Design Studies.

"We preferred to work in a group, because a group has much more power, both in the economic sense and from the perspective of dividing the work load," says a group member. "Putting out a book independently is a lot of work, and this way we split up the tasks: one distributes (whoever has a car that day); one is in charge of printing; another is responsible for public relations. We have no fixed roles, switching with one another all the time. Beyond that, Dimona is also a kind of support group. We meet, show one another what we have done, and share ideas."

In the beginning, they approached regular publishers, who were not enthusiastic about the group of young inexperienced artists who insisted on drawing cartoons. The group refused to be discouraged, however, and decided to do everything on its own.

"We discovered that it is great to publish on our own," says another Dimona member. "It gives us a sense of independence. We have no restrictions on the content we put in the books. Each one of us can do what he wants on his pages."

The group's members agreed to write their cartoons in English so they could distribute the comic books overseas, and they chose the name Dimona because they wanted an Israeli name that non-Israelis could pronounce easily. The have published two books, participated in the International Comics Festival in Angoul, France, and had their works published in two anthologies - one in German and the other in Slovenian. This week the five are going to the Internationales Berliner Comicfestival.

Every so often, they pack copies of their books, "Dimona" ("We picked it up from the printer a day before our trip to France) and "Dimona Israeli," which came out last week ("on the first day of the Cinematheque festival we ran to get it from the bookbinder") into Baruch's car, and distribute them to small bookstores like Prose, Ha'ozen Hashlishit, Tolaat Sfarim, and Salon Mazal in Tel Aviv.

"You won't find our books at Steimatsky's," they say. "We don't distribute to chain stores."