My friend Rachel Swirksy, who is a wonderful writer and a major help to me in creating Hereville books, just sent me this snippet:
My name is Mirka, and I grew up in a small town where all the women wore long sleeves and all the men wore beards, where everyone spoke Yiddish and prayed to Hashem, where almost no one watched TV, and the men studied books all day while the women worked and took care of the children.
Most didn’t know it, but there was a troll there, and a witch, and a talking pig, and a wishing fish, and a time eater, and a demon, and there were other things, too.
I wanted to be a dragonslayer, but instead I learned that the world needs a lot of things other than dragonslaying. Cooperation, and clear-thinkingness, and mercy, and willingness to do the right thing no matter the consequences.
That doesn’t mean the world doesn’t also need dragon-slaying.
My name is Mirka, and I am a dragon slayer.
An article in “The Bee,” a local Portland paper.
Foster-Powell cartoonist creates books for global readers
By DAVID F. ASHTON
for THE BEE
In his Foster-Powell studio, Barry Deutsch works on a page from his second book in the “Hereville” series.
While pausing for inspiration, artist Barry Deutsch glances up, and looks out at Laurelhurst Park from inside his Foster-Powell Neighborhood studio.
An idea pops into his mind, and Deutsch goes back to work, as he stands, drawing on a Wacom Cintiq – a combination of a high-resolution computer monitor and digitizing tablet.
Although his work shows he’s a gifted artist, Deutsch says he doesn’t consider himself an artist, illustrator, or graphic designer. “I am a cartoonist,” he says.
He wanted to be a veterinarian in high school, Deutsch recalls. “But then, I took my first biology class when they had us dissect things. It turns out, the insides of a frog are really gross. Disgusting, in fact! That was pretty much the end of my becoming a veterinarian.”
However, he’s always been a big fan of comic books, he explains. “It was natural for me to switch over to creating comics.
“I started drawing at school, and also in my free time. My teachers were okay with it. In fact, I was very lucky, in that I had a good drawing instructor in high school. I learned a lot of basic principles of drawing. Even though I skipped a bunch of my other classes so I could go to drawing class more often, things worked out okay.”
For several years, Deutsch says he worked as a wedding coordinator and assistant manager at the Old Church, downtown. “It was a fun job, actually. There were very nice people there, and it helped pay the bills while I continued working on my drawings.
“I’ve been making a full-time living at this for the last five years or so, since my work on ‘Hereville’ began.”
Hereville is a series of two illustrated hardcover comic books, explains Deutsch. “I’ve had other things in print. But, two Hereville books are in print, and I’m currently working on the third book.”
The heroine in these books is Mirka, an 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl, who wants to fight monsters.
“She came about because I wanted to do something that would make a fun adventure comic; something that I would like to read. I’m kind of sick of all these ‘action comics’ about muscular 30-year-old white guys in New York City who punch each other a lot.
“And, I’m Jewish. This is a topic that enabled me to do a lot of research about Judaism. It all came together in Hereville. I don’t think anyone in the world but me would have come up with the idea to make this comic book.”
It’s similar to Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, the creators of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, he says. “What made them special wasn’t the fact that they had what some considered to be a silly idea. They saw that they could actually tell appealing stories with these characters. Perhaps Hereville will never sell that well, but it is appealing to people.”
He’s both somewhat astonished, and pleased, Deutsch smiles, that a publisher actually picked it up, then a second book – and is now waiting to publish the third in the Hereville series.
What surprises him, he adds, is that Hereville, which started out as a web comic, appeals to all ages.
“It’s no secret that I write and draw for myself,” Deutsch muses, “It wasn’t until I got an agent that I found out I have been creating a kids’ book. So it could be that I’m brilliantly creative – or, that I’m very immature!”
The modestly-priced books make a great gift for a birthday, Hanukkah, or Christmas, Deutsch suggests. They’re available at many local booksellers, or online at Amazon.com.
And, to see much more of his work, visit his website: www.hereville.com
Here’s a scene that I ended up 90% rewriting, between a very small Mirka, years ago, and her Mom. I like this scene, but what I replaced it with fits better into the larger story.
These are what I call my “stick figure layouts,” where I don’t do any actual drawing, but I figure out the final script and the layout.
It’s always fun being interviewed by Steven Bergson of Jewish Comics Blog, because he’s so prepared and knowledgeable. Here’s the first few questions from the interview he just posted:
Jewish Comics Blog : How has your life changed since wining the Sydney Taylor Book Award and having its sequel recognized as an SBTA Honor Book?
JCB : In my last interview with you, you told us to expect a wedding in the 2nd book. Yet, that wedding never materialized. Why did you change your mind and will we be seeing a wedding in a future Hereville book?
JCB : It has already been speculated by comix scholars that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster may have been alluding to the Kindertransport when they had Superman‘s parents send him away from a world on the verge of destruction to the safe haven of Earth. This was mentioned in Harry Brod’s recent book Superman Is Jewish? In Hereville 2, you cleverly made a parallel between Mirka’s great-great-bubba’s journey from the Old Country to the New Country (presumably because of antisemitism, though that’s never mentioned) and the separation of the meteorite from her meteor sisters. Were you inspired at all by the Superman origin story?
To read my answers to these and Steven’s other questions, head on over to the Jewish Comics Blog.
Just saw “Rear Window” for the first time. What a stunning, amazing movie!
Actually – hard as this is to believe – as of a few days ago I had never seen any of Hitchcock’s movies. Now I’ve seen “A Shadow of a Doubt,” which was wonderful (and surprisingly feminist in some ways), and “The Lady Vanishes,” which didn’t do as much for me.
But “Rear Window” was so perfect that I have a hard time imagining any of his other movies will match it, for me. As well as being incredibly cleverly written, it has a lot of elements that I’ve always found appealing: Storytelling constructed around a severe technical limitation (in this case, that nearly all of the story is told using shot angles that Jimmy Stewart’s character could see from his window), a claustrophobic setup, the close urban neighborhood, and the comic-strip like storytelling of the neighbors lives viewed in panel borders (aka windows).
If you’re familiar with “Rear Window,” I’d recommend taking three minutes and watching this amazing version of the entire movie as a single panoramic view.
Bechdel test report: All three movies pass the Bechdel test, although “Shadow of a Doubt” just barely passes (because of a conversation between the protagonist and a grumpy female librarian). I was also struck by the “no one will believe you, you’re a woman!” theme in all three movies – even in Rear Window (where the male protagonist is also disbelieved), the police detective shows a special disdain for Grace Kelly’s testimony, and comments that he’s never heard a theory from a woman that hasn’t been a waste of time.
To celebrate Merida of the Pixar film Brave “officially” joining the Disney Princess line, Disney released some new illustrations of her. In the new illustrations, Merida is even thinner than her already-thin movie version (as Alyssa put it, “what appears to be rib-removal surgery”); her dress has been redesigned into an off-the-shoulder number; she has much thicker eyelashes (and in general, her face seems much more stereotypically feminine); her hair has been changed from out-of-control curls to waves; and her attitude is much, well, flirtier.
I’m not sure that Disney’s Merida makeover represents a conscious strategy on their part. At the, er, official coronation ceremony at Disneyworld, Merida’s appearance seemed modeled on the movie version, not on the new illustrations. (See this photo, for instance – note the covered shoulders, and curly wig.) Nor did Disney seem to shy away from Merida’s tomboy aspects – she made her entrance on horseback, and finished the ceremony by posing with her bow and arrow.
But because it (probably) wasn’t conscious doesn’t mean that it’s not bad. It suggests that Disney subconsciously and reflexively turns their female characters into the same dull and predictable flirty, glittery pin-ups without any thought even being required. (Ever notice how impossible it is to find any Mulan merchandise showing her dressed up for war?)
Put another way, for the folks in Disney marketing, the path of least resistance appears to be a very sexist path.
Except that this time, they’ve encountered a lot of resistance. A petition started by girl-power website A Mighty Girl has gathered 130,000 signers (and counting). The petition says:
The redesign of Merida in advance of her official induction to the Disney Princess collection does a tremendous disservice to the millions of children for whom Merida is an empowering role model who speaks to girls’ capacity to be change agents in the world rather than just trophies to be admired. Moreover, by making her skinnier, sexier and more mature in appearance, you are sending a message to girls that the original, realistic, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior; that for girls and women to have value — to be recognized as true princesses — they must conform to a narrow definition of beauty.
Disney seems to be taking note: As InsideTheMagic notes, the new Merida design has disappeared from the Disney Princess website, replaced by images of Merida as she appeared in the movie.
One really unusual thing about this is that Merida’s creator, “Brave” writer and co-director Brenda Chapman has gone public with her unhappiness about the makeover, calling it “a blatantly sexist marketing move based on money.”
I think it’s atrocious what they have done to Merida. When little girls say they like it because it’s more sparkly, that’s all fine and good but, subconsciously, they are soaking in the sexy ‘come hither’ look and the skinny aspect of the new version. It’s horrible! Merida was created to break that mold — to give young girls a better, stronger role model, a more attainable role model, something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance.
They have been handed an opportunity on a silver platter to give their consumers something of more substance and quality — THAT WILL STILL SELL — and they have a total disregard for it in the name of their narrow minded view of what will make money. I forget that Disney’s goal is to make money without concern for integrity. Silly me.
* * *
To a certain extent, Disney’s attempts to democratize what it means to be a princess are admirable. You don’t actually have to be born into a royal title, or obtain one by marriage. […] You don’t have to be white, or European, or in the case of Ariel, the star of The Little Mermaid, necessarily based on land.
But two restrictions remain. You have to be young. You have to have a very particular body type and long, perfect hair. The edits to Merida reflect those priorities.[…]
If it’s important that girls of color and girls of different economic classes be able to recognize themselves and find aspirational stories in the Disney Princess line, why shouldn’t it also matter that girls with wild hair and variable body types see themselves there too?
Although I agree with Alyssa, it’s important to note that Merida’s body type, as seen in the movie, represents only the smallest of small departures from the Disney standard. Don’t get me wrong – I love the movie Brave, and I love the work Pixar did to present Merida as someone who delights in the things her body can do, rather than the way she looks.
But the range between Merida’s body and face type, and that of the typical Disney princess, is pretty darn small. The top of my wish list for Disney princesses – even higher than my wish for a Jewish princess, already! – is that Disney, or Pixar, add a fat character to the princess line.
Seriously, Disney, I’m Trying to Take a Little Break Here– MUST YOU? Peggy Orenstein points out that Merida’s makeover is actually part of what seems to be an ongoing project to make all the Disney princess characters more vapid than their movie versions.
Disney’s makeover of its Brave princess is cowardly | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett | Comment is free
The Problem with Merida’s Princess Makeover
If you’ve met me at a comic book convention, you may have noticed the little herd of toy pigs decorating my table. I bought those when I was drawing the first Hereville book, to help me draw the pig character! I took hundreds of photos of those plastic pigs, from every angle and height, and used them as reference while drawing the comic.
You can see a pattern on the pig in the photo above. This was contributed by one of the two small girls I live with, at some point when I wasn’t in the room to stop them. :-p
I didn’t use the models during book 2, since the pig only appeared in one panel. But I still have the little herd of pigs, and when they’re not appearing at cons they stand in my drawing area, near a Peppermint Patty figure.
When kids read my rather depressing and angst-ridden short comic “How To Make A Man Out Of Tin Foil,” they pretty much all react the same way: They make little tin foil people, just as my character Joel did in the comic! Which I think is kind of awesome.
This photo is of my wonderful niece Jemma Andersen. And here are her tin foil superheroes: