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Thursday, July 11, 2013

2nd interview with Barry Deutsch

Barry Deutsch, author-illustrator of the first 2 Hereville books kindly agreed to answer another set of questions which I recently e-mailed to him.

Below are my questions and Barry's replies.

Jewish Comics Blog : How has your life changed since wining the Sydney Taylor Book Award and having its sequel recognized as an SBTA Honor Book?

Barry Deutsch : I'm very grateful that my work has gotten some recognition.

One important change, is that I'm now more likely to be asked to come speak to children at schools. That's part of being a cartoonist that I didn't anticipate at all, and I also didn't expect how much I'd love doing it.

But there's nothing more rewarding or energizing than talking to kid audiences. It's like when I was a kid and saw Star Wars for the first time - that kind of energy boost. I think of it as the chocolate candy part of my job.

JCB : In my last interview with you, you told us to expect a wedding in the 2nd book. Yet, that wedding never materialized. Why did you change your mind and will we be seeing a wedding in a future Hereville book?

BD : I still intend to do that story! But my editor felt that the themes of that story were too mature for the second book, so it should be put off until later. At this point, I'm imagining it as book five, but one thing I've learned is that these things I laughably call "plans" are actually just speculations.

JCB : It has already been speculated by comix scholars that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster may have been alluding to the Kindertransport when they had Superman's parents send him away from a world on the verge of destruction to the safe haven of Earth. This was mentioned in Harry Brod's recent book Superman Is Jewish? In Hereville 2, you cleverly made a parallel between Mirka's great-great-bubba's journey from the Old Country to the New Country (presumably because of antisemitism, though that's never mentioned) and the separation of the meteorite from her meteor sisters. Were you inspired at all by the Superman origin story?

Kal-el rocketing away from the doomed planet Krypton towards Earth
A black and white photo of people in the 1940s waving at people on a train

BD : I've thought of Superman's story as a Jewish immigration story for so long I no longer remember where I first encountered that interpretation. (Umberto Eco, maybe?) But that wasn't consciously in my mind when I wrote Hereville 2, and actually the parallel didn't even occur to me until just now, when you asked that question.

I agree with you that Mirka's great-great-bubba probably left the Old Country because of antisemitism, but I deliberately avoid mentioning antisemitism much in Hereville. That's something that has been covered again and again in Jewish literature for kids. There's always room for more if it's done well - see, for instance, the terrific Resistance  series of graphic novels - but I think that one thing Hereville offers readers is a view of Judaism being important in people's lives, in a way that is joyful, and doesn't require antisemitism to drive the story.

JCB : I was pleasantly surprised to see that part of this story took place during Shabbos and that it wasn't an exact replica of what we saw in Book 1. After all, not every Mirka adventure needs to start before Friday night and end after Saturday night. Plus, I thought that since you already had a Shabbos sequence in the first book that you had shown as much of what happens during the Sabbath as you had wanted to, but this time you focused on the hospitality aspect. Do you intend to have a Shabbos sequence in every Hereville book?

BD : I can tell you for sure that there will be a Shabbos sequence in the third Hereville book. And there's one planned for the book with the wedding, too.

That said,I don't intend to have a Shabbos sequence in every book. I never know until I write the story. I love including Shabbos, because it's such an important part of Mirka's life. So if the story can be propelled forward by including Shabbos, I will do that. But if a story ends up working better if it takes place entirely during the week, then that's the way it'll be.

JCB : The intellectual "defeat" in this book happened because of the observation that by being stronger, faster, etc., the meteorite was not a better Mirka than Mirka because Mirka would never be that strong or fast. It reminded me of the times I want to give a zetz (a soft one) to whomever is trying to convince me to do something different by starting their argument with "Well ...if I were you..." But, they're not me. I'm me and I know what I would do because that's exactly what I end up doing. I was wondering if there was any event in your life that led you to include this solution to Mirka's dilemma.

BD : Well, I have a love of technicalities and loopholes, so I suppose that's why I included it in this story. It was also nice to give Rochel a chance to shine.

But (at least in my view), that was a false solution to Mirka's dilemma. It prevented Mirka from being kicked out of Hereville, but it didn't convince Metty to leave. The real solution came when Mirka was able to reach into herself and find empathy for Metty. Which is something I often struggle to do in my own life, when I'm dealing with people who are making me angry in some way.

JCB : Not so much a question as a comment. I'm coming to appreciate the subtle foreshadowing that you've used in both books (and which I'm presuming will be found again in future books). The way that Fruma tried to impress upon Mirka the importance of learning to knit was actually not as big a surprise to most readers since there's a huge ball of yarn of the cover (though my own initial reading experience didn't include that, since I first read it as a webcomic). However, in Hereville 2, Mirka protests that, "You can't kill a king with a pawn", though Mirka the "pawn" keeps defeating her king-like enemies despite the fact that she's the weaker one.

BD : Thank you! I think all writers try to build in connections within their stories; it just makes stories more satisfying to read and (even more) to reread. Most writers are re-readers, so we like to build in some treats for the rereaders out there. :-)

JCB : Among Christians, there is a wonderful credo, "What Would Jesus Do?" which has appeared on t-shirts and bumper stickers and has sometimes been imitated by others, "What Would Moses Do?", "What Wold Muhammed Do?". In Joss Whedon's Buffyverse, Xander once admitted that he solves problems by asking himself, "What Would Buffy Do?" I find the Fruma version found on page 8 to be more empowering, though, when she tells Mirka to ask herself what imaginary (idealized) Mirka would do. What led you to write that into the story?

BD : Well, that's something I try to ask myself - what would the person I'd like to be, do in this situation?
The trouble with asking yourself that question, of course, is that "who do I want to be?" is a question with an answer contingent on what my current values are. And if my current values are wildly wrong - as they are in Mirka's case, with her idealization of combat heroics - that can lead you to an answer that won't really help. (So in a way, that scene was a rare instance of Fruma giving Mirka bad advice.)

At the start of Hereville 2, Mirka thinks that she'd like to be Metty - that if she was only incredibly powerful and a great monster-fighter, then everything would be perfect. But then she actually meets her ideal self, and her ideal self is a real jerk. I'm not sure if Mirka really learned anything from that, though. She's very stubborn about everything, including learning lessons. Which is part of what makes her so fun to write.

JCB : When I was younger, I read the story "The Super-Exiles of Earth!" which first appeared in Justice League of America #19 (May 1963). In that story, the members of the JLA have to face off against doppelganger versions of themselves who are better than them (stronger, faster, smarter). It was a wonderful premise, though the ending wasn't as great as I had hoped it would be. I'm curious if you had ever read that story or a similar comic book story.

BD : I never read that particular story, but of course I've read and seen a lot of doppleganger stories in my life. There were four separate doppleganger stories in Buffy, for instance - robot Buffy, Zander split in two, vampire Willow, and the Buffy/Faith switch story. In comics, Dopplegangers are a staple of superhero comics, from bad guys disguising themselves as the hero and robbing banks, to the dozens of robot doubles Superman keeps stashed in his Fortress of Solitude (and how creepy is that?). Evan Dorkin's Bill and Ted comics - which were actually hilarious and witty - did great things with the robot doubles.

It's a pretty irresistible device, if you're working in a genre that lets you get away with it. As a writer, you're always trying to bring your characters face-to-face with parts of themselves they'd rather ignore, and what more efficient way than literally bringing them face-to-face with themselves?

JCB : I feel like I need to bring up Mirka's age again for 2 reasons. Firstly, those who were 11 when they read the first Hereville book in 2010 now find that they are 3 years older than the main character. Assuming that they will continue to read every Hereville book that's published, they might find that they are less and less able to relate to her because she's still a preteener while they are now coping with teen life. Also, the readers won't get to see her Orthodox Bat Mitzvah (assuming that it will be depicted) until she turns 12. When are you planning to make Mirka older?

BD : I write Hereville with myself in mind as the intended audience - these are the sort of action-adventure comics I want to read. And I'm WAY older than Mirka. So hopefully, readers will be able to continue enjoying Mirka's stories even as the readers age.

And in the end, there's nothing to be done about it; I can only work as fast as I can work. Alas.

But to answer your question, my plan (remember what I said about plans?) is to have Mirka remain 11 years old for the first three books, and then begin aging her.

JCB : Will we ever see Mirka using a library? I'd think she would certainly be curious to look up info on trolls, witches, meteors, etc. given her penchant for getting into certain situations and reluctance to ask Fruma all the time.

Plus, we might get to meet one of the Hereville librarians

BD : We might see Mirka using a library! That's not in any of the scripts I've written so far, but I could easily imagine that fitting well into a story I'd write.

Here's a confession: I might hesitate to do a lengthy scene in a library, simply because it takes so much time to draw a bookshelf full of books, and libraries are full of bookshelves. I'm not a very fast cartoonist, and part of my creative process has to be managing my drawing time carefully.

JCB : You're no doubt hard at work on the 3rd Hereville book. Can you give any kind of hint as to what readers can expect to see in this story (without giving too much away)?

BD : The third book is tentatively entitled Hereville: How Mirka Caught A Fish.

The story begins with Mirka forced to babysit Layele, her death-obsessed six year old sister - but things very quickly spin out of Mirka's control. I think a lot of readers will be thrilled that this story has a bigger role for Fruma than book 2 did. And I can promise a very big change in Mirka's home situation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi Steve,

In Montreal, on September 14th the Montreal ComicCon will be in town for the weekend.

My name is Gabriel Couture and I work for a young Jewish adult Outreach and Engagement program at FederationCJA in Montreal, Qc. We organize festivals (, conferences (, and other initiatives in the city. Our mandate is to create new and inspiring programming that is inclusive and will appeal to young Jewish adults of different denominations. I'm currently working on revamping a website we run called A Bit Off the Top ( and I'm planning ahead and coordinating with different people in order to have new, unexpected and interesting content for our readers and followers.

In Montreal, on September 14th the Montreal ComicCon will be in town for the weekend. I found your website while looking for people who might be able to provide the A Bit Off the Top website with interesting content that would be related to the arrival of the Comic Con in the city.

Perhaps you'd be interested in doing something? If so, you can write me at

Shana Tova!