Israeli Comics Have Lost Their Spiritual Father'

Among the books and columns that Dudu Geva created and co-created are the Zu Aretz Zu series, the Ridiculous series, "Joseph and His Brothers," "The Road to Happiness" in Maariv and "Abir Zik."

Dudu Geva, illustrator and cartoonist, died of heart failure yesterday morning in his Tel Aviv home. Geva, who was one of the most subversive, provocative, productive and original illustrators in Israel, leaves two children, Tami and Aharon, and a long series of books, comic books and columns in Haaretz, Maariv, Ha'Ir and Hadashot, of which he was one of the founders.

Among the books and columns that he created and co-created are the Zu Aretz Zu series, the Ridiculous series, "Joseph and His Brothers," "The Road to Happiness" in Maariv and "Abir Zik." The character with which he is most identified is The Duck, who starred until recently on the back page of Ha'Ir.

In the edition of December 30, 2004 - that is, a month and a half ago - Geva wrote a kind of eulogy for The Duck in his regular spot on the back page, entitled "Last Breath," and at the top he wrote: "The brain, the kidneys, the lungs, the thyroid gland and the reproductive system have ceased to function. Only the large intestine is continuing its involuntary functioning."

"The eulogy is connected to a larger project of Geva's that was supposed to appear in Akhbar Ha'Ir," says Amos Schocken, the publisher of Haaretz and the other newspapers of the Schocken chain, including the Tel Aviv weekly Ha'Ir. "He and we understood that this would apparently not come to be and that `The Duck' was beginning to sing his swan song."

Schocken met Geva through the former editor of Haaretz, Hanoch Marmari, who brought him to Ha'Ir. "I saw him as a kind of genius," says Schocken. "I remember that after a cover he did for Ha'Ir I phoned him to compliment him, and I told him that it was as good as the newspaper cartoons that were done in the 1920s in Germany, in the German Expressionist style, like Georg Grosz."

A stage for artists

Geva, the divorced father of two, was born in 1950 and grew up in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. As a high school student he already had a weekly comic of his own in Haaretz Shelanu, the children's newspaper of Haaretz. After his service in the Israel Defense Forces, he registered for Bezalel art school but wound up in the scenery department of the television studios, and from there went on to animation and to publishing books.

Recently a magazine of comics and illustrations that he edited, Sifrut Zola (Pulp Fiction) was published. Participants included Assi Dayan, Said Kashua, Tinkerbell and Ronny Someck. The magazine was sold at kiosks and cafes. On the day of his death he had already been to a cafe for that purpose earlier in the morning. At the release party for the publication Geva said: "Artists have been erased from the press, and art is represented in the press only by art critics. This publication is an opportunity to give a permanent stage to artists. And in addition, let us raise our glasses in a toast to the late Duck."

Hanoch Marmari, the former editor of Haaretz, who worked on "Zu Aretz Zu" along with Geva, says of Geva that he was the person with the most unique graphic language he has ever known. "He refined his drawing into a language and also made it as funny as can be. He really was able to draw a few simple lines that aroused laughter, and used words in an extraordinary way in connection with his drawing, which he stylized over the course of his life. He had a tremendous life's work in the numerous comics, columns, crosswords and rebuses. A truly unique artist."

The connection between Marmari and Geva began 30 years ago. "I met him in Jerusalem at the television studios. I was one of the writers of [pioneering satirical program] Nikkui Rosh, and he was the television graphic artist. He made the first video clip for Arik Einstein's `Turkish Coffee.' We became friends there, and from this friendship `Zu Aretz' was born. He was a unique partner for creative dialogue, not only in the sense of the interaction between writers. He had a knack for drawing anything. He had a unique and rare sense of humor. He could communicate at the level of humoristic texts and translate them into drawing.

"He was a subversive fellow and an individualist. He preserved his childish energy in the good sense. He was an ageless person. Like his Duck, he had no limits. I don't know what those of us who are addicted to him are going to do. He deserved to have another 30 or 40 years."

Hummus and shakshuka

"Dudu wrote the book `Abir Zik' together with Hanoch Marmari," recalls screenwriter, film critic and screenwriting teacher Kobi Nov. "And I remember how they would stand there and try to sell it in the Jerusalem cold, and people didn't get what it was. They thought it was a coloring book for children. I met Dudu when I was serving in the army. His father, Aharon, introduced us. This was during the Yom Kippur War when his father came to lecture at a nearby base and I drove him there.

"He told me that he had a son who drew for television and that's how the connection between us was made. The connection continued in the Jerusalem Nikkui Rosh group: Dudu was demobilized and immediately after his military service he came to work at the television graphics department. Then they started to work on `Zu Aretz Zu.' When Hanoch started working at Ha'Ir, he invited him to write a column and then we began to write in parallel `Yosef from the Water Department' and `The Ahlan Wa Sahlan Gang' in Kol Ha'Ir [the Schocken chain's Jerusalem weekly].

"After that we wrote `The Ridiculous Book,' `Son of Ridiculous' and `Ridiculous on the Enemy's Home Front.' We also published three books for children: `Fat Berta,' `The Owls' Assembly' and `The Elephant from New York.' Our ways parted when it all withered away. In recent years we met mainly at our children's bar mitzvas. But the years when we were doing creative work together were wonderful years. We had a common language.

"Dudu had two great food loves: shakshuka and hummus. We always worked over a plate of hummus or shakshuka. We would talk and write, and he would illustrate. I'm terribly sad. Dudu was a pure and honest soul, funny and full of the joys of life. It was wonderful to work with him and it is such a shame that he will no longer be with us."

Geva spoke about his eating habits in an interview with the weekly magazine of the mass circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth about two weeks ago. "I suspect that deep down I am a total disaster. My body is held together by a thin string and if it breaks everything will collapse. I smoke, I don't eat vegetables and I have a really unhealtful lifestyle. I'm pretty much a medical miracle. Even if I die this very second, it will be a miracle that I ever reached this second."

His talk about his own death, even though it sounds like a prophesy, was part of Geva's humor. Avner Avrahami, a journalist and editor at Haaretz, who had worked together with him at Maariv and put together the regular feature "The news and its significance" with Geva, also interviewed him once for the weekly Zman Tel Aviv, in which the illustrator told him: "I know I will die in the summer."

"He always related to life and death in a cynical way," says Avrahami. "He said that in his family they died young. His father Aharon Geva, after whom Dudu's son is named, was a journalist at the [now defunct daily] newspaper Davar and died at the age of 64; his grandfather died even younger. It was a trademark." Apparently only a trademark. Despite the laden comments. Geva never complained about his health and he did not even have a doctor. Another column of Geva's was published in Ha'Ir and was called "Afternoon in the Metropolis." Aviv Hevron, currently the editor of the Maariv Magazine and Geva's cousin, wrote at the time a short text and Geva drew them both, "And of course he made himself more handsome, which was the exact opposite of the reality."

Ephraim Sidon, a writer, translator and columnist, met Geva together with the group of `Zu Aretz Zu," which came out in 1975. "Dudu illustrated the entire book," says Sidon. "About a year later I made a rhymed translation [into Hebrew] of `The Emperor's New Clothes and [Hans Christian] Andersen's `The Shadow,' and Dudu illustrated the book with wonderful pictures.

"In this book, the ancestor of `Yosef' was born. This was an original children's book that was very different from anything that had come out until them. Then Dudu blossomed with the comics and our ways parted, and we got together again three years ago when we published another book of Andersen's called `The Flea.' A year ago they published a special issue of Kol Ha'Ir that was devoted to Jerusalem slang, which I wrote and he illustrated.

"Dudu was always very faithful to his aims. He was anti-establishment and he wasn't afraid to insist to the very end. At the end of the 1980s the Disney company sued him, after Geva hosted Donald Duck in `The Duck.' It takes a lot of courage to get into a trial with a company like that, and Dudu insisted, and lost tens of thousands of shekels. Dudu was a person who didn't know how to be tranquil, and he didn't have a single quiet moment."

"Dudu was a person who fought the known, the official and the familiar all his life. He had the ability to fight like Don Quixote fought the windmills. He was an unpredictable person. There was a contradiction in him: He hated the establishment but he had to work for it. He always aspired to publish underground newspapers."

Recently he was deeply involved in the marketing of the first of such an underground publication, Sifrut Zola. Yuval Caspi, an artist and teacher of art and comics at the Tel Aviv Museum who together with Geva established the publication "A4," says that the idea of offering a stage to every comic artist who was interested in publishing his drawings came to them during a trip they took together to Amsterdam and Paris. "Dudu felt that there were many good artists who had no access to a stage because of pressures from editors and from the establishment, and so it was decided to issue the `A4' series. There were six issues a year, and 16 artists appeared in each of the issues. We sold every copy for a shekel and we broke even. A week ago the issue of Sifrut Zola came out and all the people who participated in it are people whom he met through `A4.'

"I met Dudu on Monday at the Tola'at Sefarim bookstore in Tel Aviv and he looked happy when he heard that copies of Sifrut Zola were selling very well," says Caspi. "Israeli comics have lost their spiritual father. This is a great very great loss to culture." Geva's funeral will be held today at 4 P.M. at Kibbutz Einat.