In the midst of dinosaurs, soldiers and scantily clad superheroes sat two members of the Holocaust Center. Positioned behind their booth inside the annual comic book convention known as Pittsburgh Comicon, Joy Braunstein and Emily Sabol readily shared information to passers-by regarding “Chutz-Pow!,” the center’s new comic book on the accomplishments of Jewish heroes.
Approximately 18 months ago, the center began considering new approaches to youth education. A brainstorming session ensued, and the idea of comics arose. Braunstein, the center’s director, contacted the ToonSeum, a Pittsburgh museum dedicated to comic arts. With the museum’s guidance, the Holocaust Center developed an exhibit and later a comic book.
“The idea would not have moved forward without ToonSeum,” said Braunstein.
Once the idea of developing a comic book as an educational tool was agreed upon, logistical arrangements followed. ToonSeum connected the Holocaust Center with several local artists, including Wayne Wise, a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer and artist and the resident comics scholars for ToonSeum.
Wise, who wrote the comic book, worked largely with Zachary Zafris, who oversaw the project’s research and editing and served as a liaison between the Holocaust Center, ToonSeum and the various artists. By constantly communicating with Wise and the artists, Zafris strove to ensure the integrity of characters and events described.
After months of concentrated work, the collaborative fruit was born. The 24-page first volume of the comic book series, “Chutz-Pow! Superheroes of the Holocaust,” tells the true stories of UpStanders — the book’s term for the at times superhuman accomplishments of ordinary men and women — Les Banos, Malka and Moshe Baran, Dora Iwler and Fritz Ottenheimer. Each of the four stories was illustrated by a different local artist.
Mark Zingarelli, a freelance cartoonist/illustrator whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire and Entertainment Weekly, illustrated the story of Les Banos, the late Hungarian-born Pittsburgh sports photographer who was a spy against the Nazis. Zingarelli said Wise approached him about the idea well before it was determined who would illustrate each story. Zingarelli was immediately intrigued and entitled Banos’ story, “Return to My Father’s Homeland.”
“There is so much to the story,” said Zingarelli. “It sounded so fantastic.”
When Wise gave him the assignment, “I was thrilled and grateful,” he added.
Apart from appearing at the Pittsburgh Comicon, “Chutz-Pow!” has been distributed vastly. Drew Goldstein, chair of the project, said that the comic book already has traveled nationwide. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has archived “Chutz-Pow!” and plans to sell it in its gift shop, and a comic book store in Chicago also is carrying it.
“The outpouring of support has been tremendous,” said Goldstein. Now, the task is to get the message “in front of the next generation.”
From the families of survivors to community members to Holocaust Centers globally, “Chutz-Pow!” has been received “tremendously well,” he added.
Franco Harris, the former Pittsburgh Steelers star, authored the book’s afterword, writing: “The stories made me realize more than anything that every one of us can be an UpStander — a real-life superhero — and I am honored to be associated with such an amazing organization and project.”
Building upon the book’s support, the Holocaust Center intends on creating several more volumes. Braunstein said that production is starting for the series’ second volume, which is anticipated to be released in the spring.
“We developed [the first volume] to be Pittsburgh centric, but the entire world wants to participate,” said Braunstein. “Future stories will be much more universal because the lessons are universal. Different languages, different cities, [the] vision is for it to have legs and be universal.”
Sabol added: “Our goal is to bring “Chutz-Pow!” to the world.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.