Still running after all these years

'We now have a community in Israel, and it seems we aren’t too bad at this cartoon caricature creation business.'

Nissim Hizkiyahu (photo credit: PR)
Nissim Hizkiyahu
(photo credit: PR)
Some of us don’t get around to deciding on a career path until well into adulthood. Then there are others who instinctively know what they want to do with the lion’s share of their daytime hours from the word go.
Nissim “Nusko” Hizkiyahu belongs to the latter category.
“I started with caricatures at the age of 12,” he recalls. “I saw them in newspapers and I was intrigued by how they expressed the news, the history and all the things the caricaturists conveyed with their drawings.”
That’s a pretty advanced line of thought for one of such tender years, but he had clearly already taken his first steps toward his long, winding and successful road to becoming one of the country’s busiest caricaturists – and certainly one of its most proactive. That is abundantly evident at the retrospective of his work currently on display at the Israeli Cartoon Museum in Holon, an institution he helped establish.
By the time he got to his mid-teens, Hizkiyahu was already into his professional stride, having landed a pretty prestigious gig with the Ma’ariv Lanoar youth newspaper, with a little help from a venerated member of the profession. Persistence is a recurring theme of Hizkiyahu’s working trajectory and that, coupled with generous natural gifts, led him to some of the field’s most celebrated figures.
“I loved the work of Ze’ev,” he says, referencing Yaakov Farkash, the Hungarian-born Israel Prize-winning caricaturist. “He drew for Haaretz and Ma’ariv. I wrote him a letter and, happily, I got a letter back from him a few days later. There was no email in 1975; I got an actual letter from him.”
Obviously, the Israeli postal service was in finer form back then. The two made a date at the legendary, but now sadly defunct, Tamar Café on Tel Aviv’s Sheinkin Street.
“It was a life-changing encounter for me,” says Hizkiyahu. “I met a wonderful man, and he became a sort of personal mentor for me, right from the start.”
With Farkash’s help the teenager got a tentative foot in the door of Ma’ariv Lanoar, which asked him to send them caricatures for a month’s trial. The test period went well and Hizkiyahu landed a weekly spot that he sustained for four years, until he joined the army.
Naturally, he set his sights on maintaining his creative continuum, as a contributor to IDF publication Bamahaneh. Unfortunately, Hizkiyahu was blessed with a good physique and his high medical profile meant that he was, instead, assigned to the Combat Engineering Corps. It took him almost three years to eventually get away from the front line and land the coveted posting to Bamahaneh, but he made the most of it while he was there.
“I learned a lot about all the different aspects of getting a publication out,” he notes. “I didn’t enjoy it all, but it was valuable experience.”
Mind you, he had managed to hone his professional skills before that, while still in khaki. True to his taking-thebull- by-the-horns ethos, while he was on combat service he put together a divisional publication which he, somewhat tongue-incheek, called Mokesh Hai (Live Land Mine). He even managed to put out a paper for his brigade, after completing an officers’ course, when he was stationed in Lebanon in 1982, during the First Lebanon War.
“It wasn’t too nice there,” he says with more than a touch of understatement. “It was a bit crazy, but I managed.”
Hizkiyahu is clearly made of sterner stuff.
Despite being asked to sign on for 20 years as a career soldier, he hung his khaki and “enlisted at Bezalel [Academy of Arts and Design],” as he puts it. “I studied graphic design and, I can tell you, it was really intense – no less intense than the army.”
Despite starting his studies with a wealth of experience under his belt, he says it was quite an eye opener for him.
“I realized how much I still needed to learn and that natural talent isn’t enough. What I learned at Bezalel really opened things up for me. I learned new techniques.”
He also learned from the people around him.
“I met so many talented people at Bezalel, and not just students who were into caricatures.”
One his Bezalel colleagues was a budding comics illustrator by the name of Uri Fink. Fink created the country’s first superhero, a Jewish equivalent of Superman who went by the not-too-dissimilar name of Sabraman, and later compiled the hugely successful Zbeng book series. The two became fast friends and even shared a student apartment.
Armed with a degree, Hizkiyahu felt ready to take on the world.
“The problem was that the world hadn’t heard of my plans,” he chuckles, adding that he is not the type to be discouraged by simple rejection. “I am blessed with a get-up-and-go attitude, and I founded the Israeli Cartoonists Association, back in 1992. That’s over 25 years ago now.”
Hizkiyahu was up and running. “There were all those great artists, like Ze’ev and Dosh, and [Dry Bones creator Yaakov] Kirschen in The Jerusalem Post. It was a good time to be around. That was, of course, in the pre-Internet days, when printed media were far more powerful.”
Hizkiyahu also helped to organize exhibitions of works by Israeli caricaturists, both in Israel and abroad.
He also contributed to the Post, and had a regular slot in In Jerusalem, in the late 1980s, called “Nissim’s Corner,” for which he produced Jerusalem-themed caricatures. He says he was never short on ideas.
“Israel is a paradise for caricaturists. There’s always something happening here.”
And Hizkiyahu is always up to something himself. Some 18 years ago, the caricature, cartoon and animation sector here took an incremental popularity step when Hizkiyahu launched the Animix Festival. The event has grown over the years and is now a regular fixture at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
Hizkiyahu’s latest venture is a monthly satirical magazine called Paradox. The fourth issue is due out, and he says he is up to his old pioneering tricks.
“I am trying to get an Israeli monthly satirical publication going. We’ve never had one of those, like Mad in the United States and Punch in Britain. I’d like to find an investor with a well-developed sense of humor. I’m semi-optimistic.”
Indeed, Hizkiyahu has plenty to be upbeat about. The “Running to Tell the Guys” exhibition in Holon, curated by Eran Litvin, features around 150 works, from all kinds of publications, that span the last four decades, since the dreamy-eyed teenager began drawing for his school paper.
At the age of 56, the boyish-looking, energized caricaturist is full of ideas for the future although, with the retrospective in progress, he doesn’t mind casting a sharp eye back on some of his achievements to date, and where he’s at today.
“I am definitely getting older, although I sometimes still feel like a childish kid,” he laughs. “But I think I am an immature kid combined with someone who has accrued experience of life, and has a deeper perspective on things.”
That also includes casting a sober look at how he has grown as an artist over time.
“I know that not everything I have done is brilliant, but when I look at the exhibition, I see a process has evolved – both for myself personally, and also with regard to the fields of comics – and how it has undergone a revolution in this country since the 1970s.
“This was an area that very few knew about, but we now have our own association and the Animix Festival. We now have a community in Israel, and it seems we aren’t too bad at this cartoon caricature creation business.”
For more information about the Running to Tell the Guys exhibition: