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Sunday, November 05, 2023 

A history comic whose subject is even more relevant today

Arnon Shorr, a screenwriter and author originally from Haifa, wrote a column for Jewish Boston telling about a graphic novel he developed about Israel's war of indepdence in 1948, discussing how the armies of the Arab Legion attacked the country, and points out that, in the aftermath of the horrific jihad bloodbath the Hamas committed on October 7, it's even more relevant a subject than ever. The title of the GN he's publishing is "Brother's Keeper":
It sat on a hard drive for several years, until this summer, when an opportunity arose to collaborate once more with Joshua M. Edelglass, the illustrator of “José and the Pirate Captain Toledano.” I shared several story ideas with Josh, who immediately gravitated toward “Brother’s Keeper.” We decided we’d work together to reimagine the story as a single-issue (or “one-off”) comic book. The goal was to have something ready to debut in mid-November, at the Jewish Comics Experience, a new and exciting convention of Jewish comics at the Center for Jewish History in New York. So, in August, with only a few months to get the job done, I began to write.

I went back to old interviews that my uncle Yoav had recorded. My grandfather’s accounts of the battle and its aftermath are riveting, and revealed surprising details that I had forgotten over the years. I also found this very detailed description of the battle. I drew from every account that I could find to create a composite representation of this small piece of that old war. [...]

Ramat Rachel is a small kibbutz on a strategically significant hilltop just south of Jerusalem. In 1948, its residents found themselves surrounded on three sides by three very powerful Arab armies. The Egyptian army approached from the west, the Arab Legion came up from the south, and the Jordanian army, along with local Arab fighters, applied pressure from the east. They all wanted to drive the Jews out so they could attack Jerusalem from this high ground.

My grandfather was sent to help defend this kibbutz, and when that appeared impossible, he oversaw the evacuation and retreat.

When I wrote these scenes, they were fascinating pieces of history. It was hard to imagine an army attacking a kibbutz, with bullets and artillery shattering the bucolic quiet.

And then I was confronted by the grim horrors of Oct. 7, 2023.

What I wrote as history had suddenly become current events. A terrorist army rampaging through Israel, attacking kibbutzim along the Gaza border. Residents, once again, forced to flee.

The book was already written, and Josh was working hard on the illustrations. For him, the experience was even more surreal. He was drawing an attack on a kibbutz while watching one unfold on the news.

Initially, all of this seemed like a horrible coincidence. “Brother’s Keeper” is supposed to be historical. It’s supposed to reflect on something that happened a long, long ago. Never in my darkest nightmares did I imagine that it would become contemporary again.

And yet, here we are

We continued our work on the book. With the Jewish comics convention about a month away, we had some hard print deadlines to meet.

But I felt as though the book we were working on had fundamentally changed. I wasn’t sure exactly how, but it seemed suddenly more significant. A friend who stopped by for coffee one morning was able to articulate what I couldn’t. When he saw a few of the illustrations, he declared, “We need this. Now!”

He went on to explain: Most of us weren’t born the last time a kibbutz was attacked. Many of our parents weren’t born yet, either. Part of the pain of the Oct. 7 attacks was that we had never experienced anything like it before.

Then my friend pointed at the illustrations I had shown him. He said, “But we have been through this before. We’ve survived this before.”

The moment he pointed that out, I realized that my grandfather’s story was no longer “just a story from a war.” It suddenly had meaning.

It wasn’t the meaning I intended. It certainly couldn’t have been my grandfather’s meaning. How could we have imagined we’d need such a reminder again?

And yet, there it is.

My grandfather, surviving an attack on a kibbutz in 1948, reminds us of what we can overcome in 2023.

Josh and I had no plans for an immediate wide release of this comic book. We expected to print a bunch of copies to sell at the convention, and then to figure out a release plan from there.

But now, the story carries a new, urgent purpose. We are working very hard to make the book available as broadly as possible when it debuts in New York on Nov. 12, 2023.
The guy's doing the right thing to raise the issue at a time when a horrifying incident struck Israel anew. Surely most important, however, is that the publishers and the conventions had better make absolutely certain they stand by his production rock solid, and not cower in the face of any threats that could be made against them by antisemitic sources. The same could be said regarding comics and GNs discussing September 11, 2001.

I'm very glad Mr. Shorr made the effort to develop a GN like this. There's been far too much censorship of subjects involving Islamofascism ever since 9-11, and that includes subjects involving Israel. The time's come for more of all concerned to prove they have the guts to produce comics tackling these vital issues and focus upon them convincingly. For now, let's hope the aforementioned convention along with the publishers are going to stand by Mr. Shorr from A to Z.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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