There have been many adaptations, editions and translations of the Passover Haggadah, but this year brings, perhaps, the first graphic novel version, brought into being by a former DC Comics editor and an Israeli comic book artist.
This adaptation of the Passover story is the brainchild of Jordan B. “Gorf” Gorfinkel, who oversaw the Batman franchise for a decade, and Israeli artist Erez Zadok, the creator of the autobiographical, Instagram-based “Bundle of Joya.”
“There are many illuminated or illustrated Haggadot,” said Gorfinkel during a recent webinar. “But in a graphic novel, the words and pictures are fused together into a whole that provides context. Everybody of all ages has the ability to engage in Pessah seder in an immersive way that brings to life the characters and elements that add up to the Haggadah.”
Zadok, who is Israeli and grew up in a religious family in Netanya, remembers feeling bored by the annual Passover seder and the long-winded text of the Haggadah.
The graphic novel Haggadah brings together the text, the transliteration and the commentary within the comic book.
“Our goal was that it could be used by anyone, from secular to religious,” said Zadok. “Anyone can appreciate it because it accesses Jewish history.”
The Haggadah, published by Koren Publishers, has the traditional text on the right-hand pages; the left-hand pages bear the action-packed frames of the graphic novel that tell the Passover story, moving between modern and ancient times.
(There are both Hebrew and English versions. The English edition includes transliteration of the traditional Hebrew text.)
Another element that was important to Zadok and Gorfinkel was including aspects relating to every tribe of the Jewish people. They included Operation Solomon, for instance, the 1991 exodus of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, with a comparison between leaving Egypt and leaving Ethiopia.
For both men, the graphic novel Haggadah — which is called “The Illustrated Story” in its Hebrew form, as the term ‘graphic novel’ is not as well known in Hebrew — was a labor of love, one they worked on for three years.
They met through Zadok’s Bezalel Academy lecturer, Israeli artist Rutu Modan, who sensed that Zadok’s comic book style — a classic combination of art and lettering that harkens back to 1950s-style comic books — would appeal to Gorf.
Gorf had worked at DC Comics under the Batman title, and also illustrates his own work at his website.
The two did a kind of “boot camp” together with Butch Hartman on the “3 O’Clock Club,” an original comics series published by Lion Forge Comics, a process that Zadok said taught him a lot.
Zadok, 32, first got hooked on drawing from watching Disney’s “The Lion King” as a kid, but it was a comics competition in the fourth grade that introduced him to the art of comics.
“That’s how I got to know about stories told in four frames, or even just one frame,” he said.
After studying at Bezalel, Zadok’s first comic series was his “Tranquillo” graduation project, based on his post-army trip to South America and a stint working in mall booths in the US that resulted in a complicated visa situation with the American authorities.
“Luckily that got sorted out, or I wouldn’t be here right now,” said Zadok, who spent the last week at readings of the Haggadah graphic novel with Gorfinkel in the US and Canada.
Zadok then created an autobiographical comic on couplehood, which ended when he broke up with his then-girlfriend.
He resumed the autobiographical endeavor on Instagram with a project called “Bundle of Joya,” with his now-wife and their dog Joya, and then added May, their baby, when she was born.
The comic strip, which is in English, is updated nearly every week.
“I love mainstream comics,” said Zadok, “like ‘Batman’ and ‘Spiderman,’ but I really love realistic stories, they’re much more interesting to me.”