Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Chutz-POW! The Rest of the Exhibit

In addition to my drawing of Sophie Scholl, the Chutz-POW! exhibit at the 3 Rivers Arts Festival also features artwork from four other Pittsburgh cartoonists representing other Holocaust Upstanders. In addition to the artwork each panel features photos and a lengthy description of each of the people featured. I'm not going to reproduce the text here, more for the sake of brevity than anything else. Go see the exhibit, or if you don't have the opportunity and are interested in the stories of these Upstanders look them up. There are amazing stories here.

Art by Marcel Walker
The first panel pictured here is a reproduction of the cover of the comic book that will be released later this summer. This features stories about Pittsburgh Upstanders, most of whom are not featured in the Exhibit. I'll talk about that in more detail when the book is released.

Art by Mark Zingarelli

The one person who is featured in both the exhibit and the comic is Les Banos. Les's story is pretty unbelievable, and deserves a full graphic novel or movie instead of the six pages I tried to fit the info into. (That's true of all of these people, really). Les Banos is a famous Pittsburgh sports photographer. He was Jewish and during the Holocaust was part of the Hungarian Resistance. He was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the C.I.A.), and became an SS officer and served as a double agent! The artwork here is a preview of the upcoming comic. 

Mark Zingarelli is a native of Pittsburgh and a freelance cartoonist / illustrator for over 35 years. He has had art studios in San Diego, Seattle and now lives in Western Pennsylvania. His award winning illustration work and comics have been published internationally and he is currently finishing a graphic novel for Farrar Strauss & Giroux.

Art by Gary Morgan

The next panel is of the Bielski Brothers. The Bielski Partisan group led by Tuvia Bielski operating in the forests of Western Belorussia was one of the most renowned resistance groups against the Nazis in World War II. Together with his brothers, Zusya, Asael, and Aharon, Tuvia disrupted enemy lines and secured arms allowing his partisan movement to grow in numbers.

Gary Morgan is a freelance artist and illustrator. He went to college at I.U.P., and graduated with a B.F.A. in metals and drawing. His comics work can be seen in The Field at the Edge of the Woods.

Art by Marcel Walker

Irena Sendler used her position as a social worker to gain access to the Warsaw Ghetto and help smuggle children out of the horrible conditions and into a network of safe houses, churches, and other hiding places. She issued hundreds of false documents with forged signatures, giving the Jewish children temporary identities. Irena kept records of each child’s true identity in coded form and buried them in jars beneath an apple tree in a neighbor’s back yard, across the street from the German barracks.  It is estimated that these jars contained the names of 2,500 children. In 1943 her efforts were discovered and she was arrested, severely tortured, and sentenced to death by the Gestapo.  Even under these circumstances she refused to give the Germans any information.   While awaiting execution she was saved. Irena continued working under a false identity.

Marcel Lamont (M.L.) Walker is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native. He graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and from 1993 to 1999 was an art instructor at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Today he is the Artist-in-Residence at Pittsburgh’s ToonSeum, The Museum of Cartoon Art, where he teaches workshops and has contributed artwork to their NORTH and OAKLAND anthology comic-books. In 2014, Walker was the portrait artist for scientists depicted in the nationally-touring exhibit COMIC-TANIUM!: THE SUPER MATERIALS OF THE SUPERHEROES. Currently, he is also the creator/writer/artist of the comic-book HERO CORP., INTERNATIONAL, a mash-up of the workaday worlds of superheroes and the machinations of corporate America.

Art by Loran J. Skinkis

The final panel is of Raoul Wallenberg. Wallenberg was recruited by the US War Refugee Board. Wallenberg’s task was to save as many Jews as he could in Hungary from the Nazi regime. He was given the status of a Swedish foreign diplomat, which allowed him issue thousands of Swedish Embassy stamped “protective passports” to Hungarian Jews. The fate of Raoul Wallenberg is unknown. He was last seen with Soviet officials under suspicion of espionage. Rumor has it that he died in a Soviet Prison.

Loran J. Skinkis is a full-time illustrator and graphic designer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After attending Mt. Lebanon Senior High in 1989, Loran joined the United States Marine Corps Reserves. His unit was activated and sent overseas to Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War (1991). After returning home, Loran went to school at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Loran has worked on such titles as Photocopy Comix Illustrated, The Electric Owl, Pastaman, Star & Stripes, Burgh-Man, The Pittsburgh Steel-Man and most recently The Field on the Edge of the Woods. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Chutz-POW! My Sophie Scholl Exhibit Art

If you haven't read my previous post that serves as an introduction to this topic you might want to go back or this will be out of context.

When the Chutz-POW committee was discussing the list of Upstanders to include in the museum exhibit I found myself particularly fascinated by the story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose. Even though my primary role was as writer of the comic book (Sophie's story does not appear in it), I do draw comics occasionally and have a couple of professional credits to my name. I decided I wanted to draw Sophie's page for the exhibit.

Sophie's story, in brief, is heroic and horrific.

Sophie and her brother Hans were born in Germany and raised Lutheran. They were teens during the rise of the Nazi party and witnessed the growing abuses of the regime (this is an incredibly abridged version of what took place). They were increasingly appalled at the direction Germany was headed. They, along with a number of friends, formed a secret society called The White Rose and began a movement of passive resistance. They wrote exposes' and essays that were overtly critical of the Nazis. They printed these as flyers and discretely distributed them.

They were eventually caught and arrested.

Sophie was beheaded by guillotine on February 22, 1943 at the age of 22. Her final words were, "How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

The last flyer by The White Rose was smuggled out of Germany and later dropped in the thousands all over Germany from Allied airplanes.

This story really touched me, and when I started looking for more information on Sophie I found lots of photos of her online. These kind of blew me away. She looks absolutely contemporary in most of these. Young with a funky hairstyle, happy and full of life. She could be one of the students in my class at Chatham this spring. One of my customers at the comics store. Someone I see when I go out to shows. The same age range as my goddaughter.

Do a Google image search for more.

So I drew Sophie Scholl. My style leans more toward the stylized and iconic than it does toward realism. I like to think of myself as influenced by Jaime Hernandez (of Love & Rockets fame), and Dan DeCarlo and Harry Lucey, famous Archie Comics artists. I'm nowhere near as good as any of these, but it's what I aim for. The black and white line work is an abstraction and the goal was to turn Sophie into a comic book character in my style while still being able to recognize her. Parts of my composition used very specific photo reference.

The exhibit is in color (the comic will be in black and white). I think of myself as primarily an inker when it comes to my comics work, and that's where most of my actual professional comics experience is. I love working with a bottle of ink and a brush. My own pencils are very loose because I prefer working out the details directly in the ink. As a result of this I don't work in color very often and admit to being a little intimidated by the prospect. My style lends itself to more traditional flat coloring than to heavily rendered or shaded colors, so that's the direction I went with this. I'm happy with the results.

Seeing the reproduction of my art in context at the 3 Rivers Arts Festival yesterday was really rewarding. The drawing was accompanied by text pieces telling Sophie's story. Two of the other members of the Chutz-POW! committee were there when Marcel Walker (my friend and one of the artists on the project) and I arrived. They introduced us to the people who were there and we received a spontaneous round of applause. I can't tell you how gratifying it is to see something that I have worked this long and hard at finally out where we can share it with the world.

The following are photos of my Sophie piece in context at the exhibit. My next blog will detail some of the other artists and Upstanders involved with the project.

What follows is the description of Sophie's story that was sent to me by the Holocaust Center.


Word found on a scrap of paper left behind in the cell of White rose resistance leader Sophie Scholl on the day of her execution;
February 22, 1943

Sophie Scholl was born in Forchtenberg Germany on May 9, 1921. Sophie had loving parents and enjoyed spending her time outside and learning. She even had an interest in art and theology. Soon she began to question the Anti-Jewish doctrine of the Nazi Party and grew increasingly frustrated along with her brother, Hans, about the direction in which Germany was headed.

In 1942 Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl, Christopher Probst, Willi Graf, Alexander Schmorell, and their Professor Kurt Huber formed the resistance movement called “The White Rose”.

The White Rose was a German resistance group who spoke out against the Nazi regime’s mass atrocities and crimes to humanity.

Horrified of what their nation became, Sophie and the members of the White Rose wrote and distributed leaflets urging Germans to oppose Hitler and the Nazi Party.

After the defeat at Stalingrad in January 1943, Sophie, and Hans, distributed Anti-Nazi leaflets in the hallways of the University of Munich urging the students to rebel. However, the university janitor recognized Sophie and Hans and turned them in to the Gestapo, the German Secret State Police. Soon after their arrest, the Gestapo found the other members of the White Rose.

The members of the White Rose were tried by the Volksgerichtshof (People’s Court), overseen by Roland Freisler, a Nazi judge and the State Secretary of the Reich. Sophie Scholl and the members of the White Rose were sentenced to death by beheading. However, they remained defiant and proud. The words “To stand defiant before overwhelming power” were found on Hans’ prison cell wall and before execution he shouted, “Long Live Freedom!”

Sophie Scholl along with her brother and the other members of the White Rose stood up for their country and their people even before certain death. Their last leaflet was smuggled out of the country and scattered over Germany by Allied plans.

Fight Against the Party!”

The day of reckoning has come, the reckoning of German youth with the most repellent tyranny our nation has ever seen...

For us there is only one slogan: Fight against the Party! Get out of the party hierarchy, which wants to keep us silent!

The German name will be dishonoured forever if German youth does not rise up, to revenge and atone at once, to destroy their tormentors and build up a new spiritual Europe. Students! The German nation looks to us!

Translation: Lucy Burns

Contents copyright 2014 The Pittsburgh Holocaust Center.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Chutz-POW! (phase one)

Last fall (2013 for those of you reading this in the future), I was approached by the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh to serve on the steering committee for a project they wanted to create. The history of the Holocaust is horrific, but they wanted to find a way to celebrate the lives and stories of people who stood up against Nazi oppression and made a difference. The basic concept they had in mind was to utilize the metaphor of the Superhero to talk about real people who did heroic things during the Holocaust.

This might sound, at first, like a strange idea, until you realize that most of the writers, artists, and creators of superheroes and comic books in the 1930s and 1940s were Jewish. Superman, Batman, Captain America and dozens of others of these brightly colored heroes first appeared at the exact same time as the events of the Holocaust that led up to World War II.

The Holocaust Center worked in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Toonseum. I was recruited in my role as Resident Comics Scholar and Comic Book Historian for the Toonseum. Initially I thought my primary function was to offer them knowledge and research on the topic of comics of the time period. As the project grew and took shape my role expanded (not that I am in any way solely responsible for the project... lots of talented and motivated people took part in bringing this to fruition). This blog is a brief introduction to the project. There will be future entries that explain some of the pieces of this in more detail.

In our early meetings I learned the word Upstander, a term that is used to describe anyone who stood against the Nazi regime. I inadvertently named the project. We were brainstorming ideas for a name and I jokingly said “Chutz-Pow!” with the emphasis on the POW part because it's a comic book sound effect. I thought it was over the top, but everybody loved it. So, Chutz-POW!: Superheroes of the Holocaust was born.

There are three phases of Chutz-POW! (at least as I see it right now... this is designed to be an ongoing and evolving project that could last for years. I know the Holocaust Center has other plans for the future of this, but for right now there are three I want to talk about).

Phase one is a museum display focusing on the early history of comics and the symbolic connections of the Superhero with the Upstander. This display will feature information on international Upstanders accompanied by comics style artwork by a number of local Pittsburgh artists (I'll talk about this more specifically in a future blog). This display premieres this weekend at the annual 3 Rivers Arts Festival running June 6 through the 15th. Though my primary role in this project has been as a writer I contributed a piece of comics art for this display. I was fascinated by the story of the Upstander Sophie Scholl and chose her as the subject of my page. For more info on Sophie her Wikipedia page is a good place to start, but there's a lot more. I'll be blogging more about her as well.

This is a photo of the exhibit panel featuring
my art of Sophie Scholl. I'll post a scan of the
original art in my next blog when I talk about this process.

The museum exhibit is designed to be displayed at other museums in the future. It will be on display at the Pittsburgh Toonseum later this summer. There are plans for it to appear at comic book conventions and, if all goes well, at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, and perhaps even in a museum in Israel.

Phase two of Chutz-POW! is the part I was most involved in. We decided that it would be a good idea to produce an actual comic book. My experience as a writer and a comic book creator, as well as my background in research, made me the obvious choice to be the writer on the project. I also know a lot of the local comics artists and have good working relationships with them, which is essential in a project like this. The comic tells the stories of five local Pittsburgh Upstanders and is in the final stages of completion as I write this. It is scheduled to be published and available later this summer, so I will talk about that in more detail when the time comes.

Phase three is the part I have the least involvement with. The Holocaust Center plans an educational program where the comic will be utilized in middle schools and high schools as an aid in teaching the Holocaust. This will be an ongoing program.

In the meantime, go check out the Chutz-Pow! exhibit at the 3 Rivers Arts Festival!

Addendum: I wrote an intro for the Museum Exhibit that ended up not being used in its entirety due to space limitations on the display. I really like it, so I'm posting it below. This serves as a pretty good introduction to the ideas we have been working with over the course of this project.

Holocaust Intro – First Draft

While the concept of the Hero in fiction dates back to antiquity the modern genre of the Superhero was born with the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 in 1938. The ideas that we most associate with the superhero were all present in that first thirteen page story: a brightly colored costume, a secret identity, and powers and abilities beyond those of normal men. Superman was a character that would forever change the world of heroic fiction and inspired a legion of characters that show no signs of abating.

Superman was the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The two Jewish teenagers originally conceived of the character while living in Cleveland. By the time Superman first appeared they were working regularly as a writer and an artist for National Periodicals, the company that would one day become DC Comics.

Many of the earliest creators of the comic book industry were Jewish. The man who created the format of the modern comic book in 1929 was Max “Ginsberg” Gaines. National Periodicals was founded as a publishing company by Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz. Creators like Will Eisner, Jerry Iger, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby (Kurtzburg), Stan Lee (Lieber), and Bob Kane became the foundation upon which the entire comics industry was built.

Like most Jewish families living in America in the 1930s they heard stories of what was happening in Germany under Hitler and Nazi rule. Jewish heritage, culture, and political awareness could not help but find its way into the art they created.

Superheroes were calling for American intervention in their stories for months before the start of World War II. The most famous example of this is the cover of Captain America #1 (by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby), where the good Captain is seen punching Hitler in the jaw. This was published in March, 1941, months before Pearl Harbor and years before American troops set foot in Europe.

The superhero became enormously successful in a very short period of time. In the last days of the Depression with another World War looming, it was a time in need of heroes. These characters served as an inspiration. Though they had powers beyond that of normal humans, the lessons they taught were available to us all. Do the right thing. Stand up for yourself and for those who can't stand up for themselves. Recognize evil and stand against it. Fight for what you believe in if that cause is just. They were easily understood metaphors for everyone who read them.

The stories of superheroes covered the pages of magazines in brightly colored glory, but the truly heroic acts of that era were accomplished by very real human beings, many of whom will never be celebrated or even known. The Chutz-Pow! exhibit is an attempt to share the stories of some of these real life heroes. There were no costumes or special powers. They were simply men and women who stood up against evil. If the superhero is defined by his ability to inspire others to heroic actions then these men and women are superheroes indeed.

Their lives are proof of a simple truth.

We can all stand up. We can all be heroes.