*It was my first time being in the Middle East and it was an experience of biblical proportions visiting Israel by invitation as an international guest at the 18th Israeli International Festival for Animation, Comics and Caricature. It was established in 2001. I felt honoured and still feel honoured to have been invited and to have met cartoonist friends such as Norio from Japan, Kichka, and many others. The festival had previously invited my tutor, mentor and Comic artist Joe Kubert. Israeli cartoonists, animators and comic artists were in attendance with full participation such as Shay Charka, Shlomo Cohen, Uri Fink, Yehuda and Maya Devir and younger ones like Idnan Knafo Kerbis and Erez Zadok.
This has been the brain child of Israeli cartoonist and founder Nissim Nusko, a very well-known cartoonist in his own right. The beautifully organised festival held at the red-carpeted Cinematheque, Tel Aviv, featured the best in animation and comics from Israel and internationally with movies for adults and children, including feature films and documentaries and exhibits of comics on various topics and for different age group.
I arrived at the beautiful and busy Ben Gurion airport swarmed with travellers in and out of Tel Aviv and the duty-free area looking like a shopping Mall. At the Border control I had a taste of how security conscious Israel is. Then again, these days every country is on the edge. I was asked by the official, who noticed in my passport that I had travelled twice to Algeria and who asked what I had gone to do in Algeria. I explained that it is the same reason I am in Israel by invitation and that it’s to attend and participate at the cartoon festival similar to invitation to cartoon festivals in South Korea, Ireland, Egypt, Cameroon and France, Ethiopia and Italy to mention a few countries. I was given a small stamped entry paper, waved on and allowed entry.
The modern Israel is built around the old. Tel Aviv looks tropical, very westernised in all aspects and very sunny. Palm trees…not seen them in a long time. Air-conditioned taxis were a blessing. I knew I would not lack Vitamin D at all. I wasn’t taken aback as I had done my homework and another Israeli cartoonist friend of mine Yuval Caspi whom I had met twice at Salon festival in France had briefed me about Tel Aviv before then. Tel Aviv is a beautiful city buzzing like New York city or London albeit a small city. Instead of bicycles there were more adults on electric scooters in every nook and corner of Tel Aviv.
My hotel called Hotel Cinema situated in the centre of Tel Aviv is worth booking any time you visit. I was well looked after by the hotel staff and by my hosts and organisers….everyone of them.
I arrived on day of the official opening of the festival at Cinematheque. It was grand. One of the best openings I have been to. The cinema hall was full, as myself and other cartoonists and invited guests and members of the public were entertained. There was a congratulatory message by video on a giant cinema screen from the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin.
I had radio and television interview about my cartoons, my work and the festival. My radio interview was with KA NII with presenter Goel Pinto and later in the day I had a television interview on Israel’s i24’s Trending news programme. I did on separate days a ticketed Masterclass cartoon workshop session, translated in Hebrew to Israeli children who attended, including teenagers and adults and a PowerPoint presentation of my award winning OUR ROOTS on Black history as well as a presentation of my editorial cartoons through the years.
The festival was packed with activities and animation and cartoon workshop sessions including stop motion animation sessions. Display of cartoons outside and inside of the venue was eye-catching. My cartoons were on display as well. There were cartoonists, artists, caricaturists with tables showcasing and selling their works as you would see and come to expect at any comic convention or festival. The five-day event was a resounding success. I had time to visit the old city of Jerusalem and the Yad Vashem Holocaust history museum.
Most publications in Israel as well as comics are published in Hebrew, the way Manga comics are read, from back to front. I found this out whilst there. Never knew. When you travel to countries you hear or read about, you get to have an open-mind and form your own opinion rather than opinion formed for you or imposed through the media or through social media. On arrival, I was picked up at the airport by an Israeli and dropped off at the airport for my return, by a Palestinian.
TAYO Fatunla is an award-winning Nigerian Comic Artist, Editorial Cartoonist, Writer, and Illustrator. He is a graduate of the prestigious Kubert School, in New Jersey, US. He is recipient of the 2018 ECBACC Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award for his illustrated OUR ROOTS series – Famous people in Black History – www.tayofatunla.com