Comics come home

Israel's wealth of caricatures and comics finally have a museum of their own.

comix museum 88 224 (photo credit: )
comix museum 88 224
(photo credit: )
If early 19th-century novelist James Kirke's declaration that "a picture paints a thousand words" is anything to go by, the new caricature museum in Holon must be worth several weighty tomes. The Holon Israeli Caricature and Comics Museum opened its doors to the public last week, and an exhibition of caricatures depicting events from the last year inaugurated the event. While the country boasts a wide range of museums, there has never been an institution devoted specifically to the comedic-satirical art form. If anyone has the experience and track record on both sides of the media divide to run such an establishment and provide a learned overview of the caricature's standing in contemporary Israeli society, it is Dan Patir. Patir's experience includes a long career as a journalist and a subsequent job serving as a media adviser to Yitzhak Rabin, both during the latter's 1968-70 term as ambassador to Washington and in his first tenure as prime minister between 1974 and 1977. Patir crossed the political tracks when he retained the post in the service of Menachem Begin between 1977 and 1981. "I asked Begin whether he was concerned I might be a spy, having worked with a Labor prime minister," Patir recalls, "but he said he wasn't worried. He wanted me to stay on in the post because I was a professional." Now Patir takes some of that professionalism with him in his new role as curator and artistic director of the museum. Caricatures over the ages have provided a unique outlet for expressing ideas and opinions in definitively graphic, and sometimes stark, fashion. While we may believe contemporary media are far more audacious than in ostensibly more genteel past times, one only has to take a look at some of the caricatures that found their way onto the pages of Punch magazine - a British publication which ran from 1841 to 2002. A late 19th-century edition of Punch, for example, proffers biting sardonic humor about the political situation in the UK that goes for the jugular with the passion of a Rottweiler. "Yes, caricatures have provided an outlet for strong expression about all sorts of things for a long time," observes Patir, citing an example from close to home. "During the British Mandate here the British censured a lot of publications, but they didn't do that much with caricatures. The caricatures often conveyed an idea subtly which the censors found hard to grasp, so they got through unscathed. Caricatures were a powerful tool in the struggle against the Mandate." The subject matter addressed was varied. "Back then, they documented current affairs, like during the troubles of 1929 and the 1930s, the British White Paper on Palestine, or the Jewish underground movements. Caricatures were a prominent feature in those days, but there was less humor, and there was no political correctness. For example, the squabbles strife between the IZL and the Hagana were depicted in caricature form in a very basic manner." Patir cites the work of leading caricaturists such as Shmulik Katz, Amos Biederman, Shlomo Cohen, Michel Kishka and the Jerusalem Post's Meir Ronnen. "I like what Mike [Ronnen] does, and some of the younger guys like Uri Fink," Patir says adding, though, there is less opportunity today for caricaturists to publish their work on a day to day basis. "Up to the 1960s there was one caricature in all the major dailies, and there were a lot more dailies back then. The caricatures always appeared prominently, on page 2 or even on the front page." Caricatures, Patir notes, have also traditionally been exploited for propaganda purposes. "We dropped leaflets over Lebanon, against Hizbullah, in the last war, but caricatures are also used in a very coarse manner. To this day, you find caricatures in publications in Arab countries which depict the stereotype image of the Jew with a beard and prominent nose. This October, for example, the Algomhuriah newspaper in Egypt ran a caricature with a Jew with blood on his hands leading Uncle Sam down a garden path. And Arai, in Qatar, recently ran a caricature of a fat Jewish chef with a Magen David on his hat trying to cut meat on a table. The meat was depicted as a Palestinian and the chef was preparing a feast for the Annapolis peace talks." There have been, however, some sacred cows which even caricaturists did not touch. "Golda Meir was not caricatured while she was prime minister, and Rabin was mostly considered untouchable during his first term in office. But Golda became the butt of caricatures as soon as she resigned." Next year, the Holon museum will hold an exhibition of caricatures from the first 60 years of the state, and eventually all the major caricature collections will be transferred to the museum's archives. For more information about the museum, go to: