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Growing up in the burbs, one of my greatest childhood joys was taking a bus to Tel Aviv with my best friend. We loved the video arcades, music stores and a small book shop I called "our library." There, amongst the dusty Pushkin and Agnon, was a smorgasbord of comics for me to peruse and purchase the most affordable one with the best cover. My favorites were Superman and Iceman. The former's truth, justice and American way and the latter's outsider persona - not to mention the way cool ice slides he travels on - were inspiring. I too wanted to fight crime, help the poor and kiss beautiful, grateful, damsels in distress. I wept when Superman died and was angered when they resurrected him.
Then came Playstation, and with it Tekken, and my focus shifted. I started to perceive comics as childish, but my interest in superheroes never waned.
I rediscovered comics following an article I read exploring manhood and superheroes. There is a reason why Stan Lee created so many characters the likes of Spiderman, Hulk and X-Men. It's not just their different powers but their differing demeanors, too. I realized the depth of creative ink. Lee, like any director, must decide what and how to draw every frame to best convey the text so every box becomes its own scene.
As I was flipping through one comic to investigate my newfound notions, I wondered if there really are other adults who appreciate this art form. Then I came to a Nissan ad - not something geared towards the average 12-year-old paperboy.
"There's been a huge boom in comics for adults," says Ofra Konejn, founder and owner of Comikaza, Israel's first and biggest comic book store that's also hosting international Free Comic Book Day here in Israel. "There are still comics targeted mainly for children, but there is an uprise in comics that deal with political issues, sometimes with more violent graphics, sophisticated texts and design," she says.
Free Comic Book Day is being celebrated for the seventh time internationally and the fifth time in Israel. The day is marked with participating comic book stores giving away comic books for free to anyone who enters. Each store decides which comics to give away, but the publishers also create special editions of already established series as well as previews for an upcoming ones, also to be distributed for free.
"The objective of the day is to expose people to the world of comics," says Konejn, adding that "Comics are no longer just about super-heroes. There are TV comics such as The Simpsons and Transformers, of famous stories such as Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat and numerous others." Konejn tells that her favorite comic is Fable, in which "various fairy tale and folklore characters, who refer to themselves as 'Fables,' have been forced from their homelands and traveled to our world where they formed a community called Fabletown in New York City.'
Israelis, of course, are prominent on the scene. "There are many great Israeli comic writers. Most of them are still writing political satire but there is constant growth in classic comics as well," Konejn says. However, she adds speaking of international comics in Israel, "I don't believe that comics will be much more than a niche in Israel. The language is a strong barrier. People have a problem reading in English, and translating comics is just too expensive."
Darius Gilmont, a British comic artist who lives and works in Israel, does not agree. "I think comics are a niche everywhere. There is the same percentage of comic readers in Israel as there is anywhere else. The English in comics is easy because the drawings help you understand. And besides, there is no reason why more comics aren't published in Hebrew," he states.
Mainly a satirical and political writer, Gilmont publishes how own strip called "The Sunshine Monkeys," a satirical look at humans. "I presented the strip at last year's Free Comic Book Day and it was well accepted. And, not only among the Anglo-Saxon community," he says. Additionally, Gilmont has also drawn for a political comic book called "Zionism for Beginners,"written by Shimon Gelvetz. He has also translated one of his strips to Hebrew for the youth magazine Maariv L'Noar. "The English humor translates well into Hebrew," he says, adding that "it's flipping the sides of the drawings that's a hassle."
Both Konejn and Gilmont agree that comics are a great form of escapism - something that this country can definitely enjoy. This suburban boy can't wait.
Free Comic Book Day, is today, Friday, May 2. at the Comikaza shop in Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center. For more information visit www.comikaza.co.il or call (03) 620-5682. Darius Gilmont's work can be viewed at www.dariusgilmont.com.
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