Jewish Telegram article about Hereville

On December 2, 2012 · 0 Comments

In the November 9 issue of the UK newspaper The Jewish Telegram, they had a nice article about me and my work. You can see it as it appeared on the page in pdf form here, or read the text of the article below. Many thanks to writer Mike Cohen!

11-year-old Mirka is a big draw for cartoonist Barry

BATMAN, Superman, Spider-Man move over, there’s a new superhero in town — an 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl!

Portland-based author Barry Deutsch has created Mirka who has starred in two Hereville comic books.

Barry introduced the world to Mirka in How Mirka Got Her Sword and has followed it with second book, How Mirka Met a Meteorite.

But he revealed that his hero originally began life as a male character.

“Mirka started with the idea of a medieval fairytale hero, who was having trouble with his dragon fighting because, in his country, Jews weren’t allowed to carry swords,” the 44-year-old explained.

“As usually happens to ideas, time produces radical changes, and by the time the girl-friendly comics site Girlamatic asked me to submit something, the idea of an 11-year-old Orthodox girl’s quest for a sword was right there.”

But why did Barry make his heroine Orthodox?

“I’ve always enjoyed comics that use culturally specific settings — Usagi Yojimno and Love and Rockets are two of my favourites,” he said.

“I think comics are an especially good medium for that, because instead of having to explain, comics can simply embed the reader in a new culture.

“It’s not a lecture, it’s not ‘educational’, it’s just there, inseparable from the characters’ lives.

“So I was eager to try that out, and setting Hereville in an Orthodox Jewish community gave me a reason to research my own Jewish heritage.”

Barry describes the Orthodoxy as a “little important to the storyline” adding that “it is mainly important to the setting and to the main character. It’s an irremovable part of who Mirka is”.

And the Hereville books are aimed at a unique audience — Barry.

“I write and draw the comics that I want to read,” he laughed.

“But I certainly intend Hereville to be read by a general readership. Anyone who enjoys a good adventure story with an unusual protagonist can enjoy

Barry is unmarried, but lives in a semi-communal house, which he co-owns with his partners Sarah and Charles, who he has lived with since the late 1980s.

“There are nine of us altogether, including two lovely smart girls, aged seven and nine, who are two of my best friends.

“We watch Doctor Who together and discuss escape plans should the Weeping Angels suddenly attack.

“They have definitely been an influence on Mirka.”

Barry is working on the third Mirka book and has at least another two planned after that.

He said: “I love the character and the setting, and as long as I have stories that seem fresh and worth telling, and as long as the market keeps on irrationally supporting me rather than making me acquire a real job, there will be more Hereville books.”

Barry didn’t have high hopes for the Hereville series.

“Weird concept, weird colour scheme, unknown creator — I was expecting it to flop like a fish, frankly,” he told me.

Barry describes himself as “Jewish and secular”, adding:

“My parents raised me a reform Jew; we went to synagogue only on big holidays, and I barely attended at all after my barmitzvah.

“My parents became much more religious after I had moved out. I’m still extremely secular in my life, and I identify as a Jewish atheist.

“One of the benefits of working on Hereville is that it gives me a way to connect to Judaism in my everyday life that I’d probably lack otherwise.”

Barry became a comic book fans before he could actually read.

He said: “My parents had the original art to a Sunday page of Walt Kelly’s ‘Pogo’ on their wall, and I’d stare at this one page, rereading it hundreds of times.

“Professionally, I had been doing political cartoons for many years without making much money at it.

“I did Hereville as a webcomic for fun and, when I had about 60 pages done, I self-published a booklet of it and sold it at a local convention in Portland, Oregon.

“Next to me at the convention was Scott McCloud, who is a pretty famous cartoonist. His agent came by his table and picked up a copy of Hereville.

“A week later I had an agent and three months after that, a book deal. It was head-spinning.”

Barry, who cites Faith Erin Hicks’ Superhero Girl as one of his recent favourites, says his home town is “great for Jews”. He said: “It’s not like the northeast of America, where you can’t go anywhere without bumping into a bunch of other Jews, but there are a group of us here and there are thriving synagogues and schools.

“I haven’t encountered any open antisemitism here at all.”

Barry had never planned on making a career out of comic books. He said he was “committed to becoming a vet until age 12 or so, when I took my first
biology class that asked me to dissect something.

“It turns out that being an animal doctor is actually fairly disgusting — which you think I would have picked up from reading James Herriot.

“Ever since that traumatic event I’ve wanted to be a cartoonist.”

Barry is working on the third Hereville story — which, he revealed, involves a magic fish.

He has also contributed a short story to an anthology of feminist comics. Barry’s story in The Big Feminist But is called How To Make A Man Out Of Tin Foil and is set in a Jewish summer camp.

You can read previews of both Hereville books here, and buy copies here.

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