It’s been ten years since the untimely death of comics creator Dudu Geva and Israel’s cartooning community is still mourning the loss. Geva was the prolific producer of caricatures, comic strips, and satirical newspaper columns whose crudely drawn cast of characters still resonate with the Israeli public.
“Still Optimistic” is the name of an exhibition honoring Geva’s work which opens this evening at the Holon Institute of Technology. The curators, Prof. Dana Arieli, Dean of the Faculty of Design, and cartoonist Tsahi Farber invited 120 Israeli illustrators to revive Geva’s iconic characters in what is actually the largest illustrators exhibition held so far in Israel.
Leading Israeli cartoonist Michel Kichka noted in his blog that the massive turnout is testament to Geva’s influence. “The response of the participating artists and high level of the works created in his honor leaves no doubt that he made a deep impression on the new Israeli culture that emerged after the Yom Kippur War. He started out alone in a the field of comics and cartoons and transformed, in his lifetime, what was once clandestine and underground into mainstream”.
Geva’s world was populated by characters like Yosef the harried Water Authority clerk and Israeli everyman, amateur detectives Ahalan and Sahalan (created together with humorist Kobi Niv) and — with apologies to Matt Groening’s The Simpsons — a family cartoon series, The Shimshonim.
Image: Rinat Gilboa
There was a motley crew of macho men, suffocating mothers, unattainable blondes, suicidal light-bulbs and talking cacti (a take on the Israeli “sabra”). One recurring theme that played throughout: Geva’s never-ending quest to find the ultimate serving of hummus.
The most enduring character by far is the always optimistic duck, who also functioned as Geva’s alter-ego (so much so that his silhouette adorns the cartoonist’s headstone) and who in recent years has become the unofficial Tel Aviv mascot.
Even while lying on a cutting board with the butcher’s knife poised above his head, the duck was ready with a witticism. Other times, he could be found walking down the street, briefcase in hand, smoking a cigarette, and ogling pretty girls.
Arieli states that Geva’s work is even more relevant today in light of the protests and terrorist attacks targeting cartoonists. “Dudu Geva was addicted to Israeli society and connected to daily news journalism in an unprecedented way. He believed that comics had the power to affect events and, using this medium, was able to crack Israeli cultural and political codes… He had the extraordinary ability to reflect our reality that, absurdly enough, is repeating itself today”.
Farber: “As we approach the 10 year anniversary of his death, I wanted to revisit my personal childhood hero who brought me and still brings me so much pleasure. I thought to turn to the best cartoonists, illustrators and caricaturists working in Israel today, and ask them to select a hero or heroine of Dudu Geva’s and bring them back to life for a little while, show another side or a different interpretation, after so many years”.
Images: Yuval Caspi (L); Eitay Riechert (R)
“Geva once said: ‘Just as when there’s a fire, there’s a chain of firemen, one handing buckets of water to the next… I feel that I was handed water by Shimon Tzabar and Nahum Gutman and from lots of people, and I must pass it on. Not go on wild ego trips but educate, change, make things better for us”.
Image: Lior Arditi
Here’s a clip from Israel Educational TV in 1985 of Geva explaining to kids one element in the art of cartooning.
What would Geva think of the terrorist attacks being perpetrated on cartoonists today?, Kichka mused in his blog post (written before the murderous shootings in Copenhagen of February 14, 2015 but still hold true), “After the January 7th attacks on Charlie Hebdo, I’ve often asked myself: Whe would Dudu say and what would he do about it, how he would react, what would he draw and write, what would he feel? And maybe, in particular, how would he remove the sting from this terrible episode, find the humorous angle, the different point of view that was so typical of him. With this, I can feel how much he is missed”.
Still Optimistic: Artists Draw Dudu Geva runs from February 15 to April 22, 2015 at the Holon Institute of Technology.