Category Archives: Middle East

Cartoonists to Director of the Angoulême Comics Festival: Drop SodaStream

140131_sodastream4For more information: http://lettertoangouleme.tumblr.com/

CARTOONISTS TO DIRECTOR OF ANGOULEME FESTIVAL: DROP SODASTREAM

Sacco, Siné, Katchor, Kerbaj, Coe, Drooker, Kuper, Madden, Tobocman, among dozens of others protest sponsorship by Israeli settlement manufacturer

FRIDAY, JANUARY 31, 2014– Over forty cartoonists and illustrators from a dozen countries around the world released an open letter today to Franck Bondoux, director of the International Festival of Comics at Angoulême, asking the festival to drop its relationship with the Israeli drink manufacturer SodaStream. Among those signing the letter were French cartoonists Siné, Baudoin, Carali, and Chimulus, Americans Joe Sacco, Eric Drooker, Ben Katchor, Peter Kuper, Matt Madden, Seth Tobocman and Sue Coe, as well as Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Saba’aneh, Lebanese Mazen Kerbaj, Sudanese Khalid Albaih, Tunisian Willis From Tunis, Israeli Amitai Sandy, Brazilian Carlos Latuff, Spanish Elchicotriste, Italian Gianluca Costantini, and many more.

The letter comes as SodaStream increasingly is targeted by an international boycott due to the presence of its primary factory in the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. The day before, headlines were made when actress Scarlett Johansson ended her seven-year relationship with the charity OxFam over disagreements stemming from her role as a paid spokesperson for SodaStream.

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The Angoulême International Comics Festival is the largest in Europe, and the second-largest in the world. The announcement that it would be sponsored this year by SodaStream drew immediate condemnation from French activists.

The full text of the letter and list of signatories follows:

Lettre ouverte à / Open letter to:

           Monsieur Franck Bondoux

                 Direction du Festival international de la bande dessinée
71 rue Hergé
16000 Angoulême

We, cartoonists and illustrators from all countries, are surprised, disappointed and angry to find out that SodaStream is an official sponsor of the Angoulême International Comics Festival.

As you must know, SodaStream is the target of an international boycott call for its contribution to the colonization of Palestinian land, due to its factory in the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, its exploitation of Palestinian workers, and its theft of Palestinian resources, in violation of international law and contravening international principles of human rights.

Angoulême has had an important role in the appreciation of comics as an art form for over 40 years. It would be sad if SodaStream were able to use this event to whitewash their crimes.

We ask you to cut all ties between the Festival and this shameful company.

Sincerely,

+++++++++++++++++

Khalid Albaih (Sudan)
Leila Abdelrazaq (USA)
Avoine (France)
Edd Baldry (UK/France)
Edmond Baudoin (France)
Steve Brodner (USA)
Berth (France)
Susie Cagle (USA)
Jennifer Camper (USA)
Carali (France)
Chimulus (France)
Jean-Luc Coudray (France)
Philippe Coudray (France)
Marguerite Dabaie (USA)
Eric Drooker (USA)
Elchicotriste (Spain)
Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz (USA)
Ethan Heitner (USA)
Paula Hewitt Amram (USA)
Hatem Imam (Lebanon)
Jiho (France)
Ben Katchor (USA)
Mazen Kerbaj (Lebanon)
Lolo Krokaga (France)
Nat Krokaga (France)
Peter Kuper (USA)
Carlos Latuff (Brazil)
Lasserpe (France)
Lerouge (France)
Matt Madden (USA/France)
Mric (France)
Barrack Rima (Lebanon/Belgium)
James Romberger (USA)
Puig Rosado (France)
Mohammad Saba’aneh (Palestine)
Joe Sacco (USA)
Malik Sajad (Kashmir)
Amitai Sandy (Israel)
Siné (France)
Seth Tobocman (USA)
Eli Valley (USA)
Willis From Tunis (Tunisie/France)
Jordan Worley (USA)

Si vous êtes dessinateur et que vous voulez vous associer à cette lettre ouverte, merci d’écrire à: lettertoangouleme@gmail.com

If you are a cartoonist and you want to endorse this open letter, please write to: lettertoangouleme@gmail.com

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An Up-to-Date Listing of Comics on Israel & Palestine

Ad Astra Comix is pleased to provide an up-to-date listing of comics, graphic novels, and “bandes desinees” about Israel and Palestine. As a part of our growing interest in political comics education, we offer this information as a useful resource, and do not necessarily condone or support all the various viewpoints expressed in the following books. 

by José Gonzalez and NM Burton

palestineTitle: Palestine
Author: Joe Sacco
Published: 1993 (First Edition). Single volume edition published in 2001 by Fantagraphics, currently on its 14th or 15th printing.As a comics journalist, Joe Sacco visually documented his travels through the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a first-hand account of the people of Palestine. Over the past 20 years it has become, hands-down, the most lauded example of a comic depicting the reality of Israel-Palestine tensions. Sacco’s travels in between late 1991 and early 1992, mixed with comic-rendered flashes of significant historical moments, serves as a great primer to a history and conflict often misunderstood in the West.

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footnotes in gaza

Title: Footnotes in Gaza
Author: Joe Sacco
Published: 2009 by Metropolitan BooksA follow-up to Palestine, this work was released in 2009 documents Joe Sacco’s quest to discover the truth behind the events in Khan Younis and Rafah in November 1956, when Israeli forces were responsible for the deaths of nearly 400 Palestinians. Using largely first-hand Palestinian oral testimony, the comic chronicles the people met and interviewed during his travels, which gives shape to a dark history some 5 decades old. History and its revisions are explored as Sacco’s depictions of the stories told by each interviewee sometimes conflict and circle around the truth of why those Palestinian people were killed.

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sarahglidden_howtounderstandisrael

Title: How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less
Author: Sarah Glidden
Published: Vertigo (2011)What started off as a Birthright tour to Israel, special tours to help nurture a personal relationship with Judaism, became a challenging journey of personal discovery for Sarah Glidden. She traveled through many popular destinations like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, though the most striking voyage is her unescorted trip to the West Bank, forcing her to ask serious questions of herself and her identity.Glidden has explained that she found herself discarding many pre-conceived notions that she had about Israel/Palestine before leaving North America.

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jerusalemTitle: Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
Author: Guy Delisle
Published: Drawn & Quarterly (2012)Another travelogue, this one situated entirely in Jerusalem as comics journalist Guy Delisle documents the life of his family who have travelled there as part of his partner Nadège’s work with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). Situated in the eastern part of Jerusalem, Delisle finds himself situated on the precise ground of conflict detailing the lives of people on land with a disputed border and what it means to revere a sacred city.

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exit wounds

Title: Exit Wounds
Author: Rutu Modan
Published: Drawn & Quarterly

Exit Wounds is Rutu Modan’s first full-length graphic novel, and tells an intricate story of a cab driver living in Tel Aviv who is suddenly faced with the possibility that his father has been killed by a suicide bomber.

Joe Sacco has helped open North American readers up to Modan’s complex and beautiful work by describing Exit Wounds as  “a profound, richly textured, humane, and unsentimental look at societal malaise and human relationships and that uneasy place where they sometimes intersect.”

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thin red lines

The works of Mohammad Saba’aneh

Though perhaps most known for being imprisoned for five months in Israel from February 2013, Mohammed Saba’aneh’s cartoons have been featured in newspapers throughout the Arab world and he’s had exhibitions in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Jordan. His most recent exhibition, Cell 28, centres on his time in that Israeli prison. Much of his work describes a deep cynicism towards offers of peace coupled with a generally critical view of Israel.

"Arresting Mohammad Saba'aneh" - cartoon by Sherif Arafa. Photo courtesy of Cartoon Movement - click to visit site for a larger image view.
“Arresting Mohammad Saba’aneh” – cartoon by Sherif Arafa. Photo courtesy of Cartoon Movement – click to visit site for a larger image view.

hamas in comicsTitle: Hamas in Comics: Terror and Tyranny in Gaza
Author: Israeli Defense Force (IDF)
Published: 2013

Produced by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), this comic book introduces young readers to Hamas through the eyes of the Israeli military.  A prominent example of a comic being used as political tool to shape the mindset of children, it also provides a unique glimpse into how the Israeli military envisions its own role in the conflict. Hamas in Comics draws striking parallels with comics you would be more likely to see in WW2-era North America (a time period not often considered to be the most enlightened when it came to representing non-American cultures).

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Moussa et David

Title: Moussa et David: Duex enfants d’un meme pays (two children of the same country)
Author: Maurice Rajsfus and Jacques Demiguel
Published: 2007 by Les Edicions Tartamudo (France)

A slightly different approach to a comic book aimed specifically towards children, this work by French Jewish historian Maurice Rajsfus tells the story of two boys who learn they have far more in common than their different religions might suggest. It serves as a lesson that those who are most innocent in this conflict may be able to show the rest how to solve the region’s problems.

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histoires

Title: Histoires d’une Région Enragée (Stories from a Raging Region)
Author: Ouri Fink
Published: 2008 by Gabriel Etinzon

Best known for his long running series Zbeng!, Ouri Fink’s collection of short stories targets political and religious extremists and satirizes them with a number of colourful comparisons. Some of the stories include “Hamas – the world’s mightiest moron versus the Rabbi ben Death” and “Humaus,” which borrows a device from Art Spiegelman comic Maus, but instead casts the Israeli settlers as the cats and the Palestinians as the mice. Fink’s refreshing use of humour sets his work apart from most other somber additions to this category of comics.

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Farm 54Title: Farm 54
Author: Galit and Gilad Seliktar
Published: 2011 by Ponent Mon S.L

This semi-autobiographical collection of short stories follow a young Israeli girl, and eventually a woman grown, named Noga. The conflict between and Israel and Palestine is muted to Noga during her childhood, but gradually as the stories move forward to Noga’s mandatory military service where she is most directly confronted with the reality of the conflict when she is compelled to take part in a forcible evacuation of Palestinian houses. Created by the brother and sister team of Galit and Gilad Seliktar, it provides a counter-narrative from within Israel that humanizes their closest neighbours.

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Signals from Gaza and other Webcomics by Samir Harb
Source: http://www.c-left.blogspot.ca/

This webcomic is one of the few examples of a comic from a Palestinian, due to the scarcity of jobs for comic artist in Palestine. Based on a true story, it follows an American Palestinian family trying to build a home in the West Bank. The challenges of maps is brought into focus as the very lines on each map make placing a home so difficult, with the slightest breach in a line being seen as a form of aggression. Considering the story is literally about lines drawn on paper, it makes a comic the perfect medium to explore this, and other disputes on where Israel ends and Palestine begins.

First panel of "Signals from Gaza" - click to be taken to Samir Harb's website.
First panel of “Signals from Gaza” – click to be taken to Samir Harb’s website.

najiThe Political Cartoons of Naji al-Ali

Of all Palestinian political cartoonists, the most influential is arguably Naji al-Ali, not only for the impact of more than 40,000 cartoons that he drew in his lifetime, but for the creation of the Palestinian characature and icon known as “Handhala”. Handhala has had a life and history for decades, depicting a 10-year old Palestinian boy, shoeless and in shabby clothes, with his hands behind his back. Al-Ali has explained that he symbolizes both himself (he was ten when he was forced to leave his homeland), as well as a number of general principles, including an allegiance with the poor and an unwillingness to have problems solved by external forces. Like any who saw it first-hand, Handhala became the iconic witness of the Israeli occupation. And like Handhala, al-Ali insisted he would forever remain a child until he was able to return home to Palestine.

On July 22, 1987 Naji al-Ali was shot in the face outside the London offices of al-Qabas, a Kuwaiti newspaper he worked for. He died of his wounds 5 weeks later.

His is one of the truest examples of the power of political comics to move, inspire, shake up, and frighten those who see them.

Further Reading:

Panels for Peace: Contributions of Israeli and Palestinian Comics to Peace-Building. Chantal Catherine Michel.
http://www.quest-cdecjournal.it/focus.php?id=332

“Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me” by Harvey Pekar and JT Waldman

120807-pekar-cover

“Every ethnic group thinks they are the chosen ones. … ”
–Harvey Pekar

Title: Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me
Author: Harvey Pekar and JT Waldman
Epilogue: Joyce Brabner
Published: in 2012 by Hill and Wang (Novel Graphics)

Learning about Israel and Palestine can be intimidating. It seems that anyone with any time vested in research of the subject  has an extremely confident opinion that their view is the correct one. But what is the controversy, anyway? What is the historical basis of the conflict with Palestine—and exactly when did it begin? Harvey Pekar’s Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me delves into that history (which many argue began anywhere between 46 and 2000 years ago…) and provides the reader with a glimpse of multiple perspectives by way of an “insider’s” criticism.

Perhaps one of the ways this otherwise dry narrative can get away with being a bit boring (it does cover 2000 years, more or less, in 165 pages) is its feel of exclusivity. Not only is it an interview with a man born and raised through the founding and early years of the Jewish state; it’s an interview with one of the comic book world’s most celebrated writers.

Harvey Pekar is probably best known for American Splendor. It was through this and other work, in a career that would span more than 3 decades, that Pekar pushed the envelope of comics, driving the idea of the medium’s abilities in the realm of autobiography and literature (enter: the graphic novel). Keep in mind that this trail-blazing began in the 1970s (American Splendor the series was first illustrated by Robert Crumb) and was almost unheard of for its time. He had said a motivation for making comics was that they “could do anything that a movie could.” How ironic that American Splendor became a movie in 2003.

Harvey Pekar was, as much as anyone else, given plenty of reasons to love Israel (his father, a Talmudic scholar, gave him the religious reasons; his mother, a communist, the political arguments). While the title demonstrates a certain sense of faith lost, this book is half historical intrigue; half autobiographical narrative of a man’s awakening to a world outside of his community, culture, and its decidedly unwavering ethos.

Certainly, it’s not the only way to talk about Israel (not even close to being the only comic about the subject), but it is unique. It’s history and autobiography; boilerplate language and the spontaneity of an interview (JT Waldman co-authors the book by way of interviewing Harvey). In this way, a comic book about this highly polarized topic finds balance, and a fresh perspective.

Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza

Titles: Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza
Author: Joe Sacco
Published: Palestine was originally published in comic book form in 1993, before being released as a full volume by Fantagraphics in 2001. Footnotes in Gaza was released in 2009 by Metropolitan Books

The downside of attempting to read timely political comics in order to write timely reviews is that you’re often pushing yourself to digest a lot of heavy material in a short period of time. I’ll be honest; it’s really difficult to be going back and forth from Gaza in my newsfeed to Footnotes in Gaza–which largely focuses on events from half a century ago. The idea that this reality is not only constant in that part of the world, but has more or less continued this way for five decades, is mind-boggling.

The first time I read Palestine was back in 2003, and I spent a good 2 months wading through the pages, studying the history and references, appreciating the attention to detail in the art (I had time to admire Joe’s artistic rendition of fabric the most–all of the middle-eastern apparel, I thought, from kufiyehs to shawls, seemed destined to be drawn).

This time around, after going through Palestine again, in addition to Sacco’s relatively new release, Footnotes in Gaza, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. Obviously, this isn’t the best thing you want to read in a review… I assure you, there’s a lesson to take in from this. Maybe it’s the combination of the books the real-time video I’m seeing of Gaza on Aljazeera and Russia Today. Maybe it’s the incinerating atmosphere on social media, where people dangle baited commentary like matches over their hot-headed opponents.

I’ll keep what I have to say relatively short. Frankly, this post is more about showing folks looking for political titles that there are comic resources out there for those looking for more information on Israel and Palestine –and as a veteran comics journalist, Joe Sacco is an excellent place to start. From there, I’d just assume that you’d rather spend your time reading those titles than reviews of them, right?

I will say this, with a special focus on those of you reading this who think  a “comic interpretation” of Israel and Palestine is tantamount to insulting… quite the contrary. The irony is that Joe does not cynically summarize the arguments of those on the front lines of this conflict, as anyone with more than a mild opinion on the matter is guilty of doing at least once. In the times when the conflict heats up, our detailed portraits whittle away just when readers and viewers need them the most in our media… the Israeli who hates his government but can’t reconcile the ingrained notion that Jews constantly face an impending doom… the Palestinian who, in the words of author Norman Finklestein, must face the challenge of being both “principled and reasonable”, when that is essentially an impossible thing to do. More than anywhere else in the world, and with any other conflict, complexity here dissolves into a simplified belligerence. Israelis become crusaders for the ideals of the western world, or madmen screaming about terrorists. Palestinians become the front-line fighters in a global struggle against the forces of imperialism–or madmen screaming about Zionist snakes.

Of course, I have my opinions… but the irony is that Joe Sacco, a professional cartoonist, does not indulge our cynicism with these caricatures. In fact, as a comic journalist (a profession whose total validity gets challenged on the regular for him 2 decades into his work), he is perhaps more diligent than any other dispatcher in Palestine to portray an unedited picture. You won’t find anything like it in the political cartoons of your newspaper’s opinion section… nor on CNN or BBC, or Aljazeera.

As I finish writing this, the Telegraph reports that Israeli Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai, has vowed a Palestinian “Holocaust” as a result of the rockets fired by Hamas in Gaza. Yea, he just went there. I imagine that Joe Sacco began this project of documenting the lives of Palestinians because he felt we weren’t getting their story in the West. My response to that now, in 2012, is that we easily hear more about the situation of the Palestinians… and yet it doesn’t matter. Israel acts like a monster that no longer cares to hide it (see, I just KNEW I couldn’t get through this review without making a generalization), and the West supports them while pretending that their hands are tied.

Lastly, I come back to my own mental state right now, after reading these volumes. My lesson is, naturally, to not do what I just did. Take time to digest what you’re reading and looking at… and come to your conclusions in time. No cause is properly furthered by uneducated followers. The last thing the conflict needs are more caricatures.