Drawing together - the first Israeli-Polish comic book

No subject's too taboo to the pen-wielding artist.

jewmanji comic 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jewmanji comic 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you didn't know, 2008-2009 is Israel-Poland year. One of the many events taking place in this framework is the launching of Polisra, the first Israeli-Polish comic book - to be featured at an exhibition at Holon's Israeli Cartoon Museum and at the Tel Aviv comic books festival. The Polish Mickiewicz Institute, which initiated the book, hopes it will be a channel in creating dialogue on topics considered taboo in the two nations' histories. On the Polish end of things, the obvious taboo is that period that began in the late 30s - and the never fully resolved questions of complicity with the Nazis. "Polish people feel a lot of hatred from Israelis visiting Poland," says Amitai Sandy, publisher, art director and editor of the comic book. Sandy, along with four other Israeli comics writers, including Ze'ev Engelmayer and Noa Abarbanel, worked with five Polish comics writers on this joint project. "When Israelis come to visit the camps, they always have security around them and are not allowed to talk with the Poles." The Poles, he says, "feel that all Israelis view them as anti-Semites." For their part, he asserts, many Poles "view Israelis as militant extremists who have brought Russians to Israel to use as war machines against Arabs." Sandy views Polisra as an opportunity to deal with history and the stereotypes connected to it. One story in the book, for instance, portrays a Polish woman who buys a picture of a Jew counting money for her new house. According to Polish tradition, such a picture brings prosperity to a new home. When no such prosperity arrives, the woman complains of the picture's failure to the salesman. The next frame depicts the salesman in his villa, surrounded by such pictures, exclaiming that, "It works for me!" "Humor is a great method to examine our values. It takes a situation, flips it upside down, and gives the viewer a whole new perspective on it," Sandy says. Regarding the potential offense viewers might experience from the application of humor to these most controversial of topics, he states: "There is always the fear that people will get hurt. However, after exhibiting my anti-Semitic caricatures" - Sandy participated in an Israeli anti-Semitic cartoon contest two years ago open to Jews only, in an intended ironic riposte to Iran's official international Holocaust cartoon competition - "I have learned that there are enough people out there who can take a joke." The Polisra exhibition itself is a mix of sketches and storyboards by the project's 10 participating artists/writers, along with items such as notes, e-mails and video bits, allowing for a peek into their combined working processes. "The meetings were charged at first. Obviously, the Holocaust was the first thing we discussed. However, in time, our different senses of humor came through, affected each other, and lead to much smoother sailing," Sandy recalls. It is important, Sandy takes a moment to emphasize, that not all stories in the book reflect the opinions of all the writers. For example, he says, one story claims that in order to reach redemption we need to forget the past. "I disagree with this view," says Sandy, "but I am happy to present it in our book." Polisra opens on August 7 at the Israeli Cartoon Museum in Holon. For more information visit www.cartoonmuseum.org.il or call (03) 652-1849.