(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes. Visual images certainly have an evocative, visceral power that phrases, terminology and grammar cannot match. Images made by the hand of a human being, whether a painting, comic book, ancient rock art or offhand sketch, strike deep into our consciousness and make a statement without resorting to language.
This was proved once again by the reaction to the 12 cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on September 30, 2005. The cartoons were designed as a statement about free expression but were considered extremely offensive by Muslims worldwide. As criticism and anger intensified, the cartoons were reprinted in many international newspapers, and by January-February 2006 the affair had become a full-scale intercontinental riot, leaving burnt-out embassies and scores of fatalities in its wake.
The debate about the Mohammed cartoons continues, but no one can deny that those 12 images had far more power than their linguistic equivalent of 12 thousand words.
Perhaps seeking to also harness that power, in February and in response to the controversy, the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri - the nation's largest - announced a cartoon contest intended to test the tolerance of the West by deliberately inviting controversial entries. The theme: the Holocaust, an event famously considered questionable by Iran's firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to Al Jazeera's English-language web site, after receiving more than 1,000 entries, the top 200 were put on display on August 14, with the winners to be announced on September 2.
Not to be outdone, in February two Israeli graphic artists also announced a contest of their own - the Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoon Contest, which quickly received copious attention by the media and blogosphere.
"The Arab media publishes anti-Semitic cartoons all the time," said organizer Amiti Sandy to The Jerusalem Post at the time. "We thought it would be a much braver thing to do to publish cartoons about ourselves, rather than our adversaries."
So organizers sent out a call for original anti-Semitic cartoons and were rewarded by hundreds of submissions from Jews around the world. The winner was announced on the contest website (www.boomka.org) on April 6: 'Fiddler on The Roof' by Aron Katz of Louisiana, which depicts a shadowy, Hasidic-looking violinist playing high atop a bridge overlooking New York City while the Twin Towers burn in the distance.
This piece and the other top entries will be on exhibit this week at the Sixth Annual Festival of Animation, Comics and Caricatures, which runs from August 26-29 at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque.
The exhibit of Israeli anti-Semitic cartoons is of course just one part of the extensive and popular festival, which features a full schedule of workshops, events, panel discussions and screenings from the morning until late at night. The daytime events are suitable for children and families while the events at night are for mature festival-goers.
The highlights from the eclectic program include screenings of international children's cartoons from various decades of the twentieth century, a series of comic book art and theory workshops for all ages, a special screening of music-oriented cartoons from the 1940s featuring live musical accompaniment and more.
The festival also has events that focus on the traditional superhero comic book world, including a panel discussion comparing the DC and Marvel comic universes, a discussion about the death and resurrection plotlines that abound in modern superheroic storytelling, and many individual lectures highlighting well-known heroes such as Spiderman, the X-Men and the Justice League of America.
Adult events include screenings of edgy animation including recently released Japanese manga films, discussions with Israeli political cartoonists and satirists, an exhibit of contemporary Israeli cartoons lampooning Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and meetings with many comic artists and creators, including Art Spiegelman, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for his WW II graphic novel Maus: A Survivor's Tale, which depicts the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats.
Spiegelman was also a judge of the Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoon contest but according to the contest website was dissatisfied, like all the judges, with the quality of the cartoons submitted. He found the cartoons "as blood-curdling as the contest literally asked for, but if one erases the Jewish names below the cartoons they pretty much just reinforce the stereotypes they mock."
Which just goes to show: you can't (or won't) beat them at their own game.
The Festival of Animation, Comics and Caricatures runs from Saturday August 26 to Tuesday August 29 at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque, 2 Shprintzak St, Tel Aviv. Ticket prices vary for each individual event but range from NIS 10-40 with volume discounts available. For more information or to order tickets call (03) 606-0800 or see www.anicomfestival.co.il.