‘How do I keep it fresh? A lot of the Dry Bones cartoons from 30 years ago are just as relevant today as they were then,” says Yaakov Kirschen, The Jerusalem Post’s beloved longtime cartoonist, who was honored last week with a medal for lifetime achievement at the Animix Festival in Arad.
He laughs as he calls up his website where, in addition to new cartoons, he publishes Golden Oldies from 30 and 15 years ago that are hauntingly on target today. Looking at the site, he reads aloud a cartoon about sectarian violence involving Syria, Lebanon and Iran from 1983 that sounds as if he penned it five minutes ago.
Generations of fans have enjoyed the sharp commentary by Kirschen’s talking heads (or talking schmendricks) in Dry Bones, which is syndicated in newspapers all over the world and has been reprinted in The New York Times, Time Magazine and The Los Angeles Times, among other places, and shown on CBS television.
The Brooklyn native who moved to Israel over four decades ago and who has lived all over Israel (including in Arad, where he received his Animix honor), loves what he does, and it shows in the constant liveliness of his cartoons. But now that he has conquered the world of cartooning, he is ready to realize his dream of creating a Dry Bones haggadah.
“After 40 years, I wanted to do that with a haggadah. Not a cartoon haggadah, but one where the commentary is in the artwork. It will be totally unique kind of haggadah, almost like the Talmud, [with] the text is in center and Dry Bones characters are commenting on the action. It should be as acceptable to a black-hat haredi in Jerusalem as it is to a tallit-wearing left-wing woman in San Franscisco,” he says.
He has started work on this ambitious project, but to get further funding, the tech-savvy Kirschen (who has run many technical ventures over the years) went to Kickstarter.com, a crowd-funding website where artists and entrepreneurs raise money for their projects.
“I needed $5,000 but I got $20,000 and I would have raised even more but one week of that [30-day fundraising period] was Hurricane Sandy. We would have reached much more if it weren’t for the hurricane.”
In order to do “the best translation I could,” he sat down with people, including a Kabbalist rabbi in Jerusalem.
Even Kirschen can’t help but be aware of political correctness these days, and says that he didn’t want it to be “gender biased. There are four children, not four sons.”
“One of the commentaries is going to be two boys talking and they’re saying, ‘My grandfather said in his day, it was four sons,’ and the other says, ‘In grandpa’s day, there were no bad girls.’” This kind of exchange “creates a conversation between the people and the text. I’m just finishing the whole thing, doing the color proofs and proofreading.”
Kirschen is very conscious that the era of newspapers, in which his work thrived, is coming to an end.
“One of the reasons I wanted to do this is that a haggadah is one of the last books that needs to be printed on paper. Future generations are going to look at us as people of the past, ancient people, who used to read words on paper.”
But as long as some of them have a copy of the Dry Bones haggadah in their homes, Kirschen, who, as readers of his comic know, is a realist at heart, is fine with that.