6/11/11

"Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword" by Barry Deutsch

"Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword" by Barry Deutsch is the story of a young girl who's looking for adventure beyond the houses of Hereville. While her stepmother wants her to do the chores and learn to knit, Mirka looks for dragons and witches. Eventually she finds a talking pig, a witch, and a troll, and has to deal with them all, becoming, as the tagline states, "Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl."

The book is packed with details and characters.  Although we don't get to meet all eleven members of the Hirschberg family, Deutsch provides well-rounded versions of some of Mirka's siblings, her step-mother Fruma, and even the ghost of Mirka's mother.  He also intersperses the dialog with Yiddish words and sayings like "Dybbuk and "Drai mir nit kain kop!" (providing footnotes on the translation), giving us an insider view on the events in Mirka's life.

The Jewish culture is deeply woven into this story, but is never preachy or obstructive to the narrative.  
If anything it's an interesting alien world for most Americans, as well as opening a window into the lives of others. This article  from the "Jewish Daily Forward" says it best: "By normalizing the rhythm and values of Jewish life, rather than singling them out as a topic for discussion, he manages to make Mirka just another adventure seeking pre-teen who just so happens to be Jewish."

I emailed Deutsch with a couple questions about Hereville.

Comics Bin: These magical aspects of the story - the talking pig, the witch, the troll - are you working off Jewish cultural stories, or are they your own inventions?
Barry Deutsch: They're my own inventions. There are a lot of Jewish cultural ideas in Hereville, of course, but the magic isn't one of them.

CB: Why Hereville?
Deutsch: Although this never came up in the book, the town is actually named "Aherville." "Aher" is Yiddish for "here."

CB: Is Hereville in the past, present, where?
Deutsch: It's set in a small town in the present-day US (or the recent past).

CB: Do you know a girl like Mirka?
Deutsch: I don't know anyone quite like Mirka!

The way Deutsch has rendered Hereville it could be located in any slightly rural area, perhaps another country in the present-day, or outside of New York in the 1940s.  But the sepia coloration of the pages adds to the nostalgic, almost dreamlike qualities of the story. Deutsch never attempts to explain the pig, the witch or the troll, and although Mirka is surprised by them, she encounters them head-on, and thrives on the encounters. The ending is as satisfying as any tale from the Brothers Grimm or Aesop. I think that young and teen readers will enjoy the book through to the very end.

The art is clean, cartoonish, and consistent. Deutsch originally started drawing it as a webcomic for Girlamatic.com and then developed it into this book.  The 57-page webcomic is still available online.  The published book has been almost entirely redrawn and runs 139 pages.  You can see a 15-page preview here. He creates digitally, using a Cintiq tablet and Photoshop to draw and color the story.

In addition to his work on Hereville, Deutsch also drew one of the back-up pages in Brendan Douglas Jones's epic "Breakfast of the Gods" (the one about Super Sugar Crisp Bear).

Hereville was nominated "Best Publication for Teens" for the 2011 Eisner Awards.  The webpage is http://www.hereville.com/ and Deutsch's twitter handle is @barrydeutsch.




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6/2/11

Wanted: Safe Bus Riders! - DC PSAs of the 50s and 60s

In DC comics from the 60's you'll see a number of public service announcements with titles such as "People Are People!" or "Let Science Serve You!".


Even when I was a kid these well-intentioned 1-page morality tales seemed hokey and outdated, in the same vein as a Dick and Jane or "Around the Corner" reader.


Let Science Serve You!

Now, however, I look at them as a time capsule, reflecting the morals and hopes of the Camelot administration.  They have the same wide-eyed optimism as the United Nations, or UNICEF, standing in stark contrast to the Tea Party and Neo-conservative zeitgeist of today.


Interestingly enough, most of the PSAs from DC were reportedly written by one man: Jack Schiff.  Schiff was an editor at DC during the Golden Age, and worked on on all the Batman Comics during the 40's & 50's.


I don't know when DC began to run the public service comics -- other publishers had PSAs as early as World War II.  For example, Bulletman’s appearance in "Paper Chase" in Master Comics no. 49 (Apr. 1944) promoted paper drives for the war.  DC’s 1-page service comics were sponsored by an NGO called the National Social Welfare Assembly, which later changed its name to the National Human Services Assembly.


This site has a history of the character Johnny Everyman, whose stories ran in World’s Finest and Comics Cavalcade in the late 40’s.
“The Johnny Everyman stories were essentially public service stories. Each Johnny Everyman tale preached liberal ideas, usually involving understanding and respect for other races and nationalities. They often gave a detailed look at the lives and problems of these groups, in an almost documentary like way. They embedded this mix of educational information and social commentary in what the writers hoped would be an exciting adventure framework.”
The Superman Home Page, in an article about DC artist "Win" Mortimer, explains the backstory to Schiff's PSA projects.
Jack Schiff's pet project was a series of one-page public service announcements that he hoped would be read by young comics readers and serve to give a wholesome message. Schiff worked with the National Social Welfare Assembly, a group of psychologists and educators from several organizations, including Nobel Prize winner Pearl Buck, to produce a page which appeared every month in over thirty magazines from 1949 into the 1960's. After delivering his assignment of Superman Daily strips to Schiff, Mortimer was often asked if he might be able to do a single page and produced a large body of work for this project featuring Superman, Superboy, Green Arrow, Tomahawk, and Batman to name just a few. The topics varied from racism, to doing chores around the house, traffic safety and study tips. The pages were requested by schools and civic organizations by the thousands and DC printed them and sent them out in a conscious effort to be a good citizen at a time when, as then-publisher Jack Liebowitz said, "a lot of people came into the [comics industry] who didn't have any standards at all."

Searching Michigan State's Special Collections index  I found a partial list of 75 of DC’s PSA comics.  From that list Jack Schiff wrote at least 23 of them, if not more.

In an odd contrast to the altruistic PSAs, this site claims that Shiff, often demanded under the table kick-backs from artists and writers of the period.  Hard to believe after reading all the good-natured stories from the man.

People Are People!
Here's an incomplete list of DC PSAs during the 1950s and 1960s:
  • "A Date with Effie" in Wonder Woman, no. 90 (May 1957)  - About Volunteering For Community Service.
  • "A Message from Otto the Robot!" / Jack Schiff, script; Bernard Baily, art. in My Greatest Adventure, no. 60 (Oct. 1961) 
  • "A Salute to Our American Indians!" in Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane, no. 24 (Apr. 1961) 
  • "Are You a Litter-Bug?" / Henry Boltinoff. in Wonder Woman, no. 99 (July 1958) 
  • "Be a Good Citizen" (Superman) in Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane, no. 34 (July 1962) 
  • "Be Sure of Your Facts!" (Buzzy) in Wonder Woman, no. 107 (July 1959)  -  About Not Jumping To Conclusions.
  • "Be Sure of Your Facts" (Buzzy) / Jack Schiff, script; Win Mortimer, art; Gaspar Saladino, letters. in Mystery in Space, no. 7 (Apr./May 1952); and in Wonder Woman, no. 107 (July 1959)  - In The Teen Humor Genre, About Not Jumping To Conclusions.
  • "Be Yourself, Your Best Self!" (Buzzy) / Jack Schiff, script; Win Mortimer, art. in Mystery in Space, no. 6 (Feb./Mar. 1952); and in Superboy, no. 18 (Feb./Mar. 1952)  -  In The Teen Humor Genre.
  • "Binky's Special Election Exhibit" (Binky) / Bob Oksner, art; Jack Schiff, script. in Wonder Woman, no. 86 (Nov. 1956)  -  About Voting
  • "Buzzy Learns About Careers in Nursing" (Buzzy) in Wonder Woman, no. 89 (Apr. 1957) 
  • "Buzzy Scores One for the Handicapped!" (Buzzy) in Superboy, no. 13 (Mar./Apr. 1951); and in Star Spangled Comics, no. 114 (Mar. 1951)  -  Portraying A Hearing-Impaired Teenager ("Deaf Guy") Who Can Play The Piano.
  • "Carelessness is No Joke!" (Peter Porkchops) in Mystery in Space, no. 14 (June/July 1953)  -
  • "Christmas in Many Lands" (Binky) in Wonder Woman, no. 72 (Feb. 1955)  -  In Quiz Format, About Christmas Customs In Norway, Mexico, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Chile And The U.S..
  • Nature's Bill of Rights
  • "Danger: Prejudice at Work" / Jack Schiff, script; Ruben Moreira, art; Ira Schnapp, letters. in Adventure Comics, no. 240 (Sept. 1957) 
  • "Do You Know How to be a Good Baby-Sitter?" (Buzzy) in Wonder Woman, no. 80 (Feb. 1956) 
  • "Do You Know Your Neighbors?" (Buzzy) in Wonder Woman, no. 78 (Nov. 1955); and in Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane, no. 32 (Apr. 1962)  -  About Multiculturalism. Buzzy Visits Neighbors From Puerto Rico, Vermont, Japan, And Ireland.
  • "Do You Make Life Hard For Yourself?" in Wonder Woman, no. 106 (May. 1959)  -  Against Messy Bedrooms.
  • "Don't Give Fire a Place to Start!" (Superboy) in Wonder Woman, no. 67 (July 1954)
  • "Earn While You Learn!" / Ruben Moreira, art; Jack Schiff, script. in Wonder Woman, no. 92 (Aug. 1957)  -  On Summer Jobs.
  • "Formula for Success!" in Wonder Woman, no. 103 (Jan. 1959)  -  About Developing Talents Before Choosing A Vocation.
  • "Free Speech Free for All!" (Buzzy) in Wonder Woman, no. 115 (July 1960)  -   On Fairness In Political Campaigning.
  • "From Many Lands" in All American Men of War, no. 90 (Mar./Apr. 1962)  -  Page About International Commerce,  "
  • "Get a Grip on Your Gripes!" in Wonder Woman, no. 119 (Jan. 1961)  -  About Not Losing One's Temper.
  • "Get Hip to Old Folks" / Morris Waldinger, art; Jack Schiff, script. in Doom Patrol, no. 106 (Sept. 1966)
  • "Get Your Ticket to the Treasury of Books!" (Superman) in Wonder Woman, no. 82 (May 1956)  -  About Public Libraries.
  • Wanted: Safe Bus Riders!
  • "Give Your Pet All the Breaks" (Binky) in Mystery in Space, no. 16 (Oct./Nov. 1953) 
  • "Give Your Town a Present" (Superboy) / writer, Jack Schiff; artist, Win Mortimer; colorist, Bob Le Rose. p. 60 in The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told (New York : DC Comics, 1990)  -  Originally Presented In 1949.
  • "Happy Hobby Time" (Superboy) in Sensation Comics, no. 109 (May/June 1952)  -  About Hobbies.
  • "Home Sweet Home" (Leave it to Binky) in Wonder Woman, no. 63 (Jan. 1954)  - About Domestic Arguments.
  • "Hop on the Welfare Wagon" (Superman) / Jack Schiff, script; Win Mortimer, art; Ira Schnapp, letters. in Mystery in Space, no. 8 (June/July 1952)  -  Superhero Genre.
  • "How Not to Enjoy a Vacation!" in Wonder Woman, no. 93 (Oct. 1957)  -  About Planning Ahead For Vacation Travel.
  • "How to Make New Friends" (Binky) in Wonder Woman, no. 91 (July 1957); in 80 Page Giant, no. 12 (July 1965); and in Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane, no. 58 (July 1965)  
  • "How to Spend a Summer Week" (Binky) / Jack Schiff, script; Win Mortimer, art. in Mystery in Space, no. 15 (Aug./Sept. 1953); and in Wonder Woman, no. 85 (Oct. 1956)  -  On Finding Fun Things To Do In The Summer.
  • "It's Fun to Belong!" (Binky) in Wonder Woman, no. 81 (Apr. 1956)  -  About Joining Organized Activities.
  • "It's Fun to Help Others!" (Superboy) in Wonder Woman, no. 112 (Feb. 1960) and in Star Spangled War Stories, no. 89 (Feb./Mar. 1960) 
  • "It's Fun to Learn!" in Strange Adventures, no. 109 (Oct. 1959)  - Two Boys Clearing A Field For A Ball Field Learn About Levers And Fulcrums.
  • "It's Smart to Check and Double-Check" (Superman) / Jack Schiff, script; Win Mortimer, art. in Mystery in Space, no. 9 (Aug./Sept. 1952) 
  • "Job Counselor" (Superboy) in Strange Adventures, no. 1 (Aug./Sept. 1950) 
  • "Justice for All Includes Children (5)" in Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, no. 43 (July 1976)  -  Features Superman.
  • "Justice For All Includes Children (6)" / Continuity Associates, Inc. ;in Justice League of America, no. 134 (Sept. 1976); Claw the Unconquered, no. 9 (Sept./Oct. 1976); Tarzan, no. 253 (Sept. 1976) 
  • "Justice For All Includes Children (7)" in Justice League of America, no. 136 (Nov. 1976); The Unexpected, no. 176 (Nov./Dec. 1976); Blackhawk, no. 249 (Nov./Dec. 1976); Kamandi, no. 46 (Oct. 1976) 
  • "Keep Learning the Key to Success!" in Wonder Woman, no. 118 (Nov. 1960).    - On Staying In School.
  • "Know Your Community" (Binky) in Mystery in Space, no. 17 (Dec./Jan. 1953/1954) 
  • "Lend a Friendly Hand!" (Superman) in Wonder Woman, no. 116 (Aug. 1960)  -  On World Refugee Year.
  • "Look to the Stars!" in Wonder Woman, no. 102 (Nov. 1958)  -  About About The North Star.
  • "Lost, a Free Education" (Leave it to Binky) / Jack Schiff, script, Bob Oksner, pencils; Ira Schnapp, letters. in Mystery in Space, no. 4 (Oct./Nov. 1951); and in Wonder Woman, no. 101 (Oct. 1958)  -  In The Teen Humor Genre About Staying In School.
  • BEM Shows Up!
  • "Make Your Summer Count!" in Tomahawk, no. 111 (July/Aug. 1967)  -  About Cleaning Up A Vacant Lot, And Using The Broken Glass To Make A Mosaic Mural.
  • "New Stars for Old Glory" in Wonder Woman, no. 110 (Nov. 1959) and in Star Spangled War Stories, no. 87 (Nov. 1959)  -  Brief History Of The U.S. Flag, And The New States Alaska And Hawaii.
  • "Pennies for UNICEF!" (Superman) in The Flash, no. 133 (Dec. 1962)  
  • "People Are People" (Superman) in Mystery in Space, no. 13 (Apr./May 1953)  
  • "School Blues" (Buzzy) in Wonder Woman, no. 69 (Oct. 1954)  -  About Staying In School.
  • "Share Work with Others" (Superboy) in Sensation Comics, no. 107 (Jan./Feb. 1952)  -  About Sharing.
  • "Smoking is for Squares!" / Sheldon Moldoff, pencils; Jack Schiff, script. in Detective Comics, no. 332 (Oct. 1964); in Hawkman, no. 4 (Oct.-Nov. 1964); in Superboy, no. 116 (Oct. 1964); in Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane, no. 52 (Oct. 1964); in Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, no. 80 (Oct. 1964)  - Bob Hope Appearance.
  • "Special Christmas Quiz" / Reuben Moreira, art; Jack Schiff, script. in Wonder Woman, no. 144 (Feb. 1964) 
  • "Superman" ;/ Al Plastino, Jack Schiff; in Action Comics, no. 143 (Apr. 1950) 
  • "Teddy Roosevelt, Guardian of Nature" / Ruben Moreira, art; Jack Schiff, script. in Wonder Woman, no. 94 (Nov. 1957)  -  About Conservation.
  • "That Deep, Dark Secret!" (Buzzy) in Wonder Woman, no. 54 (July/Aug. 1952)  -  Black And White Public Service Page, About Talking Openly About Mental Illness.
  • "The Atom, Servant of Man" / Jack Schiff. in Batman, no. 128 (Dec. 1959); and in Superboy, no. 77 (Dec. 1959)  -  Educational Page Celebrating The "Radio-Isotope," Created At Oak Ridge, Tennessee, And Used By Scientists In Germany, Japan, Brazil, Canada And Nigeria.
  • "The Best Present of All!" (Binky) in Wonder Woman, no. 79 (Jan. 1956); reprinted in Wonder Woman, no. 111 (Jan. 1960)  -  On Christmas Giving Without A Lot Of Money.
  • "The Case of the Careless Camper!" (Peter Porkchops) in The Dodo and the Frog, no. 89 (Aug./Sept. 1956)  -  About Forest Fire Prevention.
  • "The Flushing Remonstrance" in Wonder Woman, no. 96 (Feb. 1958); also appears in Mystery in Space, no. 42 (Feb./Mar. 1958)  -  About Quakers Standing Up For Their Right To Worship In 1656. Page Done .
  • Health Myths Debunked!
  • "The Invisible Handicap!" / Jack Schiff, script; Sheldon Moldoff, pencils. ;in Detective Comics, no. 348 (Feb. 1965)  -  The "Handicap" Is Brain Damage.
  • "The Key to Success" (Buzzy) in Wonder Woman, no. 70 (Nov. 1954)  -  On The Importance Of A Good Attitude At Work.
  • "The Magic Card!" in Wonder Woman, no. 104 (Feb. 1959)  -  On Using The Library.
  • "The Red Feather Kid" (The Green Arrow) / writer, Jack Schiff; artist, George Papp; colorist, Bob Le Rose. p. 150 in The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told (New York : DC Comics, 1990)  -  From 1949.
  • "The Team's the Thing!" (Leave it to Binky) in Sensation Comics, no. 108 (Mar./Apr. 1952)  -  On Teamwork.
  • "Time Out For Talk" in Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane, no. 33 (May 1962)  -  About Peacemaking.
  • "Tips on Camping" (Binky) in Wonder Woman, no. 74 (May 1955)  
  • "Tips on Summer Fun!" (Peter Porkchops) in Wonder Woman, no. 68 (Aug. 1954); reprinted in Wonder Woman, no. 108 (Aug. 1959)  -  About Manners And Fun.
  • "United Nations Day, October 24th" in Wonder Woman, no. 62 (Nov./Dec. 1953)  -  Black & White
  • "Wanted, A Teen-Age Code" in Wonder Woman, no. 95 (Jan. 1958)  -  About Party Crashing.
  • "Wanted: a Pal!" / Jack Schiff, script; Lou Cameron, art; Ira Schnapp, letters. in Adventure Comics, no. 251 (Aug. 1958); and in Wonder Woman, no. 100 (Aug. 1958)  -  About Close Friends.
  • "Wanted: Safe Bus Riders" / Bernard Baily, art; Jack Schiff, script. in Wonder Woman, no. 126 (Nov. 1961) 
  • "Welcome Amigo!" (Binky) in Wonder Woman, no. 66 (May 1954)  -  Black And White About Welcoming A New Friend From A Family Of Mexican Migrant Workers.
  • "What Are You Getting Out of School?" (Buzzy) / Win Mortimer, art; Jack Schiff, script. in Wonder Woman, no. 77 (Oct. 1955)  - Emphasizes The Social And Extracurricular Benefits Of Public Education.
  • "What's Your B.Q.?" in Wonder Woman, no. 105 (Apr. 1959)  - "B.Q." Stands For "Brotherhood Quotient."   Quiz-Format On Racial Equality And Equal Opportunity, In Cooperaton With The National Social Welfare Assembly.
Parents Have Rights, Too!
Smoking is for Squares!


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