(Haaretz) — A woman named Ilanit, wearing a black bodysuit, is suspended on a rope and swinging in the air. During a routine tour of the roofs of Tel Aviv, she notices a man standing on the roof of a nearby building. “This is Nahid Abdallah-something, the second most wanted man in Jenin,” Ilanit calls out. She and Nahid begin to fight, and Ilanit kicks him off the roof to his death. But then she sees that his twin brother, Fahid, the most wanted man in Jenin, is standing on a nearby roof.
Several chapters from “Ilanit, the Spider Woman from Reut,” the comic book by Boaz Kadman, have been published in recent years on various platforms. Now they are being published as a book, with all the old stories appearing beside several new ones. Published a few weeks ago, the book will be on sale at the traditional annual comics fair, which opens Wednesday at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. The fair, which is part of the 14th annual Animix Animation, Comics and Caricature Festival, runs until Saturday.
The excerpt cited above is taken from the first chapter of the book, “Ilanit vs. the Explosive Twins,” the first story in the series, which was created about a decade ago. “I sorted through comics I had bought many years before and I saw that they spoke in so many cliches,” Kadman says in an interview in Tel Aviv. “Then, one day, I read an interview in the political supplement of the newspaper, and the interviewee kept repeating himself, speaking in awful cliches about the historical connection to the Land of Israel — and suddenly it looked like a comic to me. What motivates the superheroes is always one very simple thing, ‘the war on crime,’ and political talk in Israel is the same. There’s something ridiculous about political texts and superheroes.” In that same moment, Kadman decided that his next comic strip was going to star political cliches alongside cliches about superstars. At the height of the battle between Ilanit and Fahid on the roofs of Tel Aviv, both contenders take a short breather. “Terrorism against Israeli citizens is a war crime,” Ilanit says, and Fahid retorts, “You’re continuing the occupation. You strengthened the desire for revenge. Settlements are terrorism.”
Kadman, who was born in 1971, enrolled in the Midrasha School of the Arts at Beit Berl College when he was 25. “I did comics about Joseph Beuys, for example, a prominent artist who was always being mentioned to us, and to me he’s something comic, really exaggerated. I did excerpts from his autobiography in Bazooka comics format and called it Bazooka Beuys.” Between 2003 and 2004 Kadman published several works in the A4 Booklets of the well-known cartoonist, illustrator and comic book creator Dudu Geva. For two years Kadman had a comic strip in the art magazine Studio, and then moved to Time Out magazine. In 2001 he began editing Plan B, an alternative comics magazine, with Guy Lavie. Plan B was published every few months, and several days later it changed its format and became an online blog.
“Ilanit, the Spider Woman from Reut” made its first appearance in an edition of Plan B in 2004. Several months later, Ilanit returned to defend her country in the alternative comic book “Cheap Literature,” edited by Dudu Geva and Ofra Rudner, which was published a week before Geva’s death. In these episodes, Ilanit takes on various missions in the service of the country, some of which are based on major news events. For example, she goes out to eliminate a lone settler who threatens to sabotage the disengagements, is sent to help stop a hostile international flotilla making its way to Israel’s territorial waters, and even goes to Austria to serve as a security guard at the peace talks.
Blood at the barber
One of the stories Kadman wrote is based on a memory he carries with him from his army service. “In 1990, the members of a cell known as the Red Eagle were assassinated, and I was serving at the time,” he says. “I remember that the army killed the leader of the cell in some antiquated barber shop, and I was passing by right then, and I saw the barber chair covered in blood, and it looked like a scene from an Italian western or part of ‘The Godfather.’ Everything looked… a bit exaggerated.” In his story, Kadman moves the plot far away from his memory. Ilanit is sent to eliminate the head of a dangerous gang in Nablus, but while she is on assignment, she has pangs of conscience regarding the collective punishment of innocent civilians.
The comics are always in black and white, but the cover of each story is always in color, with a texture reminiscent of newspapers from times past, and a colorful design reminiscent of the covers of the comic books sold in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, such as “Tex, Hero of the Wild West,” “Zagor” and “Tarzan.” Throughout the book Kadman remains faithful to the retro style, which is based on obsessive collage. “The heads are originally taken from very old comic books, from the 1930s, which show various styles of hats,” he says. “I had a very large collection of such drawings at one time, with no style, that had been taken from all kinds of dictionaries of illustration, instruction sheets and such. I kept large binders with those drawings, and when I started working on ‘Ilanit,’ I took the heads from there and pasted a different body on them each time.”
The use of prepared illustrations makes Ilanit’s head appear always at the same angle (like the heads of the rest of the characters). The permanent angle of her head and her odd hat keep readers from identifying Ilanit as an ordinary superhero. “There’s something a bit square, almost religious, about her,” Kadman admits, “and there’s also something very outdated about her, something reminiscent of Mapai [the powerful left-wing political party of Israel that merged with Labor in 1968]. Her political views are not very clear. She’s really ‘all right’ like that, very moral. She can do almost anything if she’s told that it’s for the sake of the country.”