When legendary comic book artist Neal Adams was 10 years old, he swore he would never get involved in anything related to the Holocaust.
In the early 1950s, Adams was living in Germany, where his father was stationed with the American occupation forces. The military screened three hours of concentration camp footage to the soldiers, their spouses and children “before they showed it to America, so they knew how much people could take,” Adams told an audience at Comic-Con on Friday. “I can tell you, after seeing that I didn’t talk to anyone for a week.”
More than 50 years later, those images are still with him.
But Adams, 69, changed his mind about doing anything related to the Holocaust in 2006, when he joined artist Joe Kubert and former Marvel head Stan Lee to create a comic book about Dina Gottliebova Babbitt, an Auschwitz survivor who sought the return of her Shoah-era watercolors from the concentration camp’s museum.
While the campaign to reunite Babbitt with her art was unsuccessful, the effort inspired Adams to reconsider getting involved in other Holocaust-related projects.
Now, Adams and Rafael Medoff, founding director of the Washington, D.C.-based David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in collaboration with ABC News, Disney Educational Productions and Vanguard Productions, are launching a motion-comic series set to debut in the fall titled, “They Spoke Out: American Voices Against the Holocaust,” which will be released online monthly at TheySpokeOut.com.
“Raffi told me there are optimistic stories. There are stories about people who did something or who tried to do something during the Holocaust,” said Adams, referring to Medoff, who first brought Babbitt to his attention.
The episodes – five in total – will focus on topics such as Holocaust rescuer Varian Fry, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia’s war against Hitler, the tragedy of the S.S. St. Louis and Anne Frank’s family’s effort to overcome the bureaucratic obstacles set up by the Roosevelt administration to discourage immigration.
ABC News plans to release the episodes once per month beginning with the start of the school year, Medoff said, adding that teachers will be able to download the episodes for free to show in the classroom.
“The power of this motion-comic series is two-fold. One … we’re teaching about a part of Holocaust history that ordinarily is not taught in our nation’s classrooms,” Medoff said. Second, he said, “we’re teaching about the Holocaust in an entirely new way – through the use of … motion comics.”
Motion comics combine the elements of print comics and animation, including narration and music. The medium could help make the lessons of the Holocaust more accessible for young students the way Art Spiegelman’s biographic comic, “Maus,” did in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Adams and Medoff debuted one of the first episodes at Comic-Con. Titled “Messenger From Hell,” it recounts the efforts of Jan Karski, a Polish Catholic who tried to stop the Holocaust.
Stan Lee, whose voice-overs regularly introduced Marvel cartoons, said he was happy to narrate “Messenger” for Adams.
“It was both depressing and triumphant in a sense, because I was narrating the story of a real hero. But the fact that it was so hard for him to get this message made public, that was depressing,” he said.
Lee says he looks up to Adams for shepherding the “They Spoke Out” project, which features Adams’ own original artwork.
“I wish I had the social conscience he does, because he takes time away from making a living on his own to do things for other people,” Lee said.
But Adams says that Medoff, who wrote the scripts, deserves a fair share of the credit.
“When he came to me, I didn’t want to remind anybody [of the Holocuast], because I was too hurt by it. But he said these are stories about people who did something, or tried to do something. No matter how terrible it is, the hardest thing for us to think about is: How was it done without anybody raising a voice? People did raise their voices, and Karski is not the only one,” Adams said. “It can’t be this big, terrible tragedy. We have to know that people cared.”