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On the door of Galit Gaon's office in the Education Administration building in Holon hangs an improvised sign. It is a page torn from a notebook, on which is written, by hand, in pencil: "The Holon Cartoons and Comics Museum. Museum office under construction. Do not enter." The frame drawn around the inscription, also in pencil, resembles those of newspaper cartoons but also lends the improvised look an appearance of formal seriousness.

Feverish activity has been taking place behind this sign for the past three months. In the narrow room behind the door, Gaon is planning out Israel's first museum of cartoons and comics. She is poring over books on the field, speaking with artists and gathering information about similar museums abroad, finding out how they built their collections. Gaon is asking Israeli illustrators to transfer works to the museum, sorting the works that come her way and appealing to the heirs of artists to donate their artistic estates to the new museum.

Gaon is the director and chief curator of the museum, which will open in October. She is also involved in the architectural planning of its space. She runs around on the top floor of the building to supervise the renovations, developing ideas for permanent and changing exhibitions, planning how they will be displayed and adapting the evolving plans to the criteria set by the board of directors.

Showing a guest a cartoon she found on the Web site of an Iranian museum that is also in the early stages, Gaon says she identifies with it. She and Galit Oz, who is in charge of education at the museum, smile as they look at the depiction of two women in traditional Islamic dress. Around their waists are explosive belts ready to be detonated, but one takes a moment to bend over a mirror and apply red lipstick to her mouth. "I feel like them, as though we are two terrorists who are prepared to commit suicide for this museum," Gaon says with a laugh.

Cartoon restoration

The initiative for the museum came from the Israel Cartoonists Association (ICA), which is currently celebrating its 15th anniversary, and in particular Nissim Hizkiyahu and Dan Pattir. For years the annual exhibition of ICA members has been held in Holon and when they proposed to the Holon municipality the creation of a cartooning museum in the city, city officials agreed.

The new museum will join a growing list of cultural centers in Holon, which includes the Science Museum, the Center for Digital Art, the Mediatech arts center, the Children's Museum and two institutions in the process of being established: the Design Museum and the Puppet Museum (which is to include a school of puppetry).

The Cartoons and Comics Museum will be located in the present home of the Holon Education Administration, on Weizmann Street. This year the city allocated about NIS 1.5 million for its establishment and operation. The museum will have 400 square meters of exhibition space on the building's top floor and 280 square meters in the basement for the archive, including a library open to the public and a room where collections and the artistic estates of cartoonists and comics artists will be kept in controlled conditions.

Special emphasis will be placed on preservation. "A cartoon that comes to us is in fact a piece of paper, and paper has a relatively short lifespan," Gaon says. "Therefore, all the cartoons that come into the museum will be digitally scanned. Some will be restored and kept in a room with the appropriate conditions for conserving paper. This will be the museum's 'safe,' Gaon explained.

The museum's collection will include both works on paper and digitized works. It will include work from Israel's earliest cartoonists, among them Ze'ev (Farkash), Friedel Stern, Aryeh Navon, Shmuel Katz and Dosh (Kariel Gardosh), as well as contemporary cartoonists such as Michel Kichka, Moshik Lin, Amos Biderman and Elite Avni.

Among the aims of the museum, Gaon says, are to promote cartoons and comics as recognized arts, to show the work of local artists, to bring these fields closer to the audience and to serve as an active center for aficionados of the genre. Accordingly, the permanent exhibition will include explanations of the history and development of the cartoon, an exhibit featuring the work of the state's first cartoonists and one scheduled to open on the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence (in 2008) that will survey the way cartoons have reflected life in the country since its establishment. In addition, there will be temporary exhibits, classes and opportunities for visitors to meet with artists.

Like "A Wonderful Country"

And what about comics? Gaon clarifies that the archive will also include a number of early works in this field, among ones by poets Lea Goldberg and Avraham Shlonsky and painter Nahum Gutman. However, in the first phase the museum will concentrate mainly on cartooning, both because comics is a relatively young field in Israel and due to the limited exhibition space. Gaon says the size of the museum is slated to grow and promises that comics will be added at a later stage.

The museum's main target audience is children and youth, not because the genre is aimed at these groups but rather due to economic considerations.

"At most of the museums in this country, the majority of visitors are children and youth on school trips," Gaon explains, "and that will be the case here, too. Not to mention that our museum will be located in Holon, which brands itself as 'the children's city.'"

Gaon and Oz make it clear that the area of educational will be of key importance at the museum, and stress that they are looking at ways to integrate cartoons into various areas of learning, among them art, design and visual media as well as civics, heritage and social leadership.

Traditionally, cartoons are classified as general humor, political humor or portraiture. The most common and best-known type is the political cartoon that appears in the daily newspapers. "A cartoonist is in fact a columnist whose art is is his tool, instead of words," Gaon says.

But will the youngest visitors be interested in political cartoons? "Children today are very familiar with politics and current events from [the satirical television show] 'A Wonderful Country,' which is in effect three-dimensional cartoons and comics, so why not?," Oz says, and Gaon hastens to conclude: "I think 'A Wonderful Country' is really part of the museum."