Celebrating comics

The newest museum in Holon is a must-see this Hol Hamoed.

Golda cartoon 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Golda cartoon 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Wearing a pair of cobalt-blue glasses and a long strand of opalescent shells that contrast sharply with her subdued black sweater and pants, Galit Gaon's style befits a designer. And in this case, looks are not deceiving. A wellspring of cultural and historical knowledge, she speaks with eloquence and passion about the research behind the creation of the country's first Caricature and Comics Museum, which opened in December. The brainchild of the International Animated Film Association in Israel and the Holon Municipality, the museum is only the 12th of its kind in the world. For many in the local animators' community, the museum is a dream come true. It provides an innovative way to introduce visitors to the cross-cultural aspects of the field as well as its rich, historical precedents. Perhaps the most important part of this museum, however, is its display of talented Israeli comic and caricature artists, both past and present. "Education is important to the city of Holon, and this museum is devoted to knowledge," says Gaon, who spent almost a year immersed in the world of comics and caricatures before deciding how such a wealth of information should be presented. "I grew up in museums. My father was the chief curator of architecture and design at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for 30 years." As we walk from her office down a spiral staircase into the intimate museum space, Gaon points out the public entrance. There, a high wooden deck gives visitors a view of a vast green field lined with leafy palms that shade a concrete path. "Part of the appeal of the museum is arriving here. People can enjoy the greenery as they walk up to the entrance." As you enter the museum, a wall of clocks set to time zones all over the world is accompanied by international newspapers that display caricatures in English, Japanese and Hebrew, among many others. Higher up, television screens show short animated clips. "These exhibits that change frequently immerse people immediately in the world of caricatures and animations and point out how rich and diverse they are around the globe," says Gaon. Further inside, three entire walls depict a gigantic time line that stretches from 4000 BCE to 1900 CE. Split into two sections, the lower half is dedicated to the significant historical events, such as the first printing of whole pages in China around 600 years ago, the Gutenberg Press in 1453 and the first known caricature in 470 BCE. The upper half depicts vivid, framed caricatures with Velcro backings that can be removed from the wall so that lecturers and teachers can use them as visual aids and people can take a closer look at them. The depictions range from Napoleon as a small man in a pond to Aesop on a pedestal with a huge head and a small body talking to a fox. "Whoever drew this caricature knew that the audience would be familiar with the Oedipus drawing that came before it," says Gaon. "The reference would have been clear." In fact, this is what defines a caricature - its transmission of an idea that usually references something else, whether it's a serious political or historical event or a well-known figure. She sums up the difference between caricatures and comics: A caricature stands alone, while comics tell a story through a series of drawings. Both, however, have the ability to transmit an idea or an opinion through illustration rather than words. The word caricature comes from the Latin root car, which means wheeled vehicle. It later evolved into the Italian word caricare, which literally translates as "to charge" or "to load." Thus, the word caricature means an image that is loaded with information. "A caricature isn't just a drawing, it's a drawing that makes a political or social statement, and although it is often placed within a specific time, place or context, the best caricatures are timeless," she explains. "The time line stops at 1900 because at this point in history, caricatures became too widespread to contain on one wall." Comprised of three sections that span two levels, the museum is designed to appeal to both older children and adults interested in the larger historical framework of caricatures throughout the world as well as the origins of caricatures and comics here and how they depict the political and social history of this country. In the basement, an archive that Gaon hopes to complete within the next five years will include digital and original copies of work from Israel's six founding cartoonists: Friedel Stern (the first female cartoonist), Aryeh Navon, Ze'ev Farkash, Shmuel Katz, Joseph Bass and Dosh (Kariel Gardosh), as well as more contemporary cartoonists such as Moshik Lin, Amos Biderman, Elite Avni and Michel Kichka. When completed, it will serve as a rich source of information for researchers. Past the time line, a permanent exhibition entitled "The Hebrew sketch-artist-publicist" features work from some of the country's comics' pioneers. It also includes popular modern masters, such as Dudu Geva, Kichka and Uri Fink. "Here we have sketches and pencils and personal stuff from these legendary artists, and we also have short movies about their lives," Gaon says. Above one screen is a quote from Shmuel Katz: "I feel that I draw history." The main hall is dedicated to traveling exhibitions, the first of which, "2007: The Year that Was," was curated by Dan Pattir. According to Pattir, a well-known retired journalist who worked as the media adviser to prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin, the history of comics here actually spans 80 years, not 60. "Caricatures in Israel, especially in the pre-independence days and the early years of the state, played an important role in society because people were so politically involved, from the fights with Arab neighbors to the British sanctions, illegal immigrations and of course, the Holocaust. These were tumultuous times." Born in 1931, Pattir personally remembers looking forward to the weekly comics that were published in the youth magazines at the time. He adds that these caricatures chronicle the history of the country in a unique and exciting way because they tell a largely visual story and they represent different perspectives and opinions. The first exhibit displayed the social and political history of 2007 through the eyes of the most important Israeli caricatures, including one of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on his way to the Annapolis conference about to be tripped up by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who waits for him with a sneaky smile as he holds a long rope close to the ground. For Gaon, one of the interesting things about caricatures is that while some are timeless because they reference the human condition, others are extremely contemporary and require knowledge about exactly what is going on in current events. This dichotomy makes the museum a great educational resource, and Galit Oz, in charge of the production and education at the museum, says that the interactive exhibits, such as the space where people can draw and read comics, is meant to engage visitors. TO COINCIDE with the International Women's Festival in Holon in February, the museum celebrated prime minister Golda Meir with an exhibition of caricatures of her by the legendary Ze'ev. That exhibition is on display until May 4. On April 21, the next exhibition, "Contact," will open. Dedicated to Theodor Herzl and curated by Uri Orbach, it will display a series of contemporary caricatures of Herzl by a variety of Israeli comic and caricature artists. For Pessah, several workshops for children will be taking place in this space. On April 23, museum visitors will be invited to draw their own superheroes, including the creation of a logo and a vision of the character. On the 24th, a workshop dedicated to Egyptian culture entitled "Mysteries of the Black Pyramids" will be taking place. On the same day, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Zbang, comic master Uri Fink will lead a workshop at the museum entitled "Everyone can make comics" that will teach children the basics. Next to the workshop space with tables and chairs, a wall of windows frames enlarged contemporary caricatures and comics from Israeli artists. For Ze'ev Engelmayer, whose work is displayed along the glass wall, caricatures are a way to communicate with the masses. "Art often looks at you from a higher place, whereas comics look you straight in the eyes," he says. "You can say anything you want in them, and it is a wonderful medium to reach people and discuss current events." For Pattir, local caricatures and comics tend to be more frontal and hard-hitting with their messages than those in other countries. "They are important relics of political criticism and social development," he says. "They are about the drawings, and they provide a way of seeing the world other than through words." Here, as the sun creates a stained-glass effect that lights up the intricate drawings, a kaleidoscope of colors spreads onto the gray floor inside. Gaon explains that this display is part of what makes the museum a three-dimensional experience. "A museum considers the visual, auditory and spatial sensors. The completion of this one is like the realization of a dream." The museum is open Monday and Wednesday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday, 2 p.m.-7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. www.cartoonmuseum.org.il.