CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is the latest movie offering from Marvel.  While most action movies have a weak plot bolstered by great action sequences, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR delves deeper with themes about loyalty and revenge at the forefront.  The audience is asked to consider if loyalty should be given freely, if it should ever be withdrawn and when enough is enough.

Stocked with plenty of surprises for Marvels fans and newbies alike, it makes for a pleasant outing regardless of your previous Marvel knowledge.  CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR stars Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chadwick Boseman, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olson and Paul Bettany.

For more about CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR as well as some insider information about how actors stay cool in their superhero costumes and how fight scenes are shot, take a look below…

—>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

Illustrator J.T. Waldman draws on Harvey Pekar’s ‘Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me’

The Avengers, Spider-Man, Superman, Batman … and Harvey Pekar?

Illustrators J.T. Waldman and Arlen Schumer captured the Jewish-American comic book experience as they delivered back-to-back lectures during the 47th annual Association of Jewish Libraries Convention on June 18. The eclectic discussions, eye-openers for some librarians in attendance, ranged from mainstream superheroes to alternative comics, such as Pekar’s “American Splendor.”

The convention, held June 17-20 at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, gathered local Jewish authors and nearly 200 professional librarians from Jewish institutions nationwide.

“It’s an annual celebration of the authors that we read, we review, we catalog,” said Lisa Silverman, library director at Sinai Temple, which hosted the event. “We’re delighted to meet them in person.”

[Read a review of “Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me”:
Isarel in the eyes of Harvey Pekar]

During “My Pekar Years (2007-2012): Creating Comix and Exploring Judaism With ‘Our Man,’ ” Waldman chronicled how he was hired to illustrate Pekar’s last autobiographical graphic novel, “Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me” (Hill & Wang: $24.95).

Best known for his “Megillat Esther,” an intricate Arthur Szyk-style work published in 2005, Waldman befriended artist Dean Haspiel, illustrator of the 2006 Pekar graphic novel, “The Quitter,” during a Baltimore comic book convention. Haspiel advised Waldman, then a Hebrew teacher, to submit a manuscript to Pekar. Months later, on Thanksgiving Day 2007, Waldman got a call from Pekar promising “$20,000 to do a whole book.” He considered the 8:30 a.m. phone call a compliment.

“[Pekar] was always very selective with artists he chose for his comics,” Waldman said.

After two years of conversations with Waldman about the Jewish state, Pekar developed a script he tentatively titled “How I Changed My Mind About Israel.”

But just as their collaboration began to flourish, everything changed on July 12, 2010, Waldman said. “I got a text message from a friend: ‘Oh, my God! Go online!’ ”

Pekar, 70, had died.

“The reason I took the book is because I wanted to work with Harvey, and now he was gone,” said Waldman, who finished the graphic novel on his own.

The end result is a narrative that features Pekar, who grew up with Zionist parents, wrestling with the myths and realities of the Jewish state.

Waldman capped off his lecture with video of himself kibitzing with the characteristically grumpy “American Splendor” creator, pestering Pekar about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“What you do is you stay out of there,” Pekar grumbled. “You don’t go populate it with thousands of people,” opining that occupation was not good for the Jews. “Even [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon realized it.”

Where Waldman zigged with a singular look into his collaboration with Pekar, comic book historian Schumer, author of “The Silver Age of Comic Book Art,” zagged with an overview of the creation of the American superhero by Jews.

With “Super Jews: Past and Present,” Schumer presented an energetic, if well-traveled, assessment of significant Jewish visionaries and trends in the creation of the American superhero idiom — launched by the success of DC Comics’ Superman and Batman in the 1930s and rounded out at Marvel Comics in the 1960s by writer Stan Lee (born Stanley Lieber) and artist Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg).

Swathed in a Superman cape, Schumer opened with a discussion about comics pioneer Max Gaines (born Maxwell Ginsburg), who in 1933 became the first publisher to “take [Sunday comic] reprints, fold them over and create the comic book.” In 1937, Detective Comics became the first comic composed of new material. And in 1938, Action Comics No. 1 changed the medium forever with the arrival of Superman.

“Superman starts out first as a comic strip, a realistic adventure-story character, [the serious] flip side of Popeye,” said Schumer, who noted how Christian and Jewish historians have co-opted Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s iconic superhero as, respectively, a Christ figure and an ersatz Moses. Superman also combines elements of David, Samson and Judah Maccabee, and Schumer traced the lineage of Superman, the Thing and Hulk to the golem myth.  

Other Jewish creators of superheroes mentioned during Schumer’s talk included writer Joe Simon and artist Kirby (Captain America), writer-artist Will Eisner (the Spirit), artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger (Batman), editor Julius Schwartz (Barry Allen’s Flash), artist Martin Nodell (Alan Scott’s Green Lantern), artist Gil Kane (Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern) and writer Arnold Drake (Deadman).

By the 1960s, Jewish talent, such as DC Comics’ Schwartz and Mort Weisinger as well as Marvel’s Lee and Kirby, had built the foundations of the comics industry just as the Warners, Goldwyns, Laemmles and Mayers had built Hollywood. Through media such as film and comics, Jews created the American Dream through the prism of their respective lower-class immigrant backgrounds and the promise of freedom through democracy, Schumer said.

“That was essentially the Jewish-American assimilationist dream,” he said. “And all of them kept their Jewishness behind closed doors, many changing their names. But, looking back at history, none could keep their Jewish ideals and principles from surfacing through their works.”

Schumer and Waldman will appear at San Diego Comic-Con, July 12-15. For more information, visit this article at

Patriot games: Is Captain America too American?

In March 1941—nine months before the attack on Pearl Harbor impelled America to enter the Second World War—one colorful American hero already had joined the battle: Captain America.

The famous front cover of “Captain America #1” showed its titular hero punching Hitler straight in the face, sending the ridiculous looking Fuerher tumbling backward.

With that single unforgettable image, the Nazi ideal of the Aryan ubermensch was dealt a fatal blow, as was what remained of the once respectable American “isolationist” movement.

As the first comic book character to enlist in World War II, Captain America was an instant success, selling nearly 1 million copies per issue. In a way that’s not surprising, considering the character’s pedigree. Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, second-generation Jews who made no secret of their source of inspiration.

The character of Captain America, Simon said, “was our way of lashing out at the Nazi menace.”

In that first issue of the Marvel comic, readers meet the superhero’s “everyman” alter ego, Steve Rogers. A sickly Depression-era child, Rogers loses his parents at a young age, then tries to enlist in the military. Too feeble to join the regular forces, Rogers volunteers for a top-secret military medical experiment known as “Operation Rebirth,” being overseen by one Dr. Reinstein. (Note the character’s Jewish name, one that sounds suspiciously like “Albert Einstein.” In 1941, Einstein was a wildly popular—if little understood—cultural icon in the real world.)

In need of a human “guinea pig” to test his formula, Dr. Reinstein injects Rogers with his Secret-Soldier Serum. Unfortunately, a Nazi spy infiltrates the experiment and kills Dr. Reinstein, leaving the newly empowered Rogers as the serum’s sole beneficiary.

Hailed by the U.S. military as a superhuman savior, Rogers dons a patriotic costume of red, white and blue, with a star on his chest and stripes on his waist. Captain America is quickly dispatched to his most important early assignment: destroy his evil “super soldier” counterpart, a Nazi agent called the Red Skull.

Fast forward to 2011: This summer, Captain America returns to the big screen. Unfortunately, the spirit of 1941 (let alone 1776) is a long way off. In an era of anti-Americanism—at home and abroad—the movie’s director and star have been playing down the character’s American identity.

Director Joe Johnston insists that “this is not about America so much as it is about the spirit of doing the right thing.” Chris Evans, who plays the title character, echoes the sentiment, saying that “I’m not trying to get too lost in the American side of it. This isn’t a flag-waving movie.”

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has eagerly de-Americanized superheroes, sometimes by undercutting traces of “corny” patriotism with doses of winking irony. Take the 2006 film “Superman Returns,” which has Clark Kent’s boss cynically describing Superman as fighting for “truth, justice … all that stuff.”

Or take the 2009 movie based on a hugely popular toy from Hasbro. The film’s title, “G.I Joe: A Real American Hero,” was trimmed down to just “G.I Joe,” the toy’s iconic logo with the American flag was removed, and the storyline transformed the title character’s American anti-terror squad into an international peacekeeping task force that apparently took its marching orders from the United Nations.

The fact is, Hollywood movies today live or die based on worldwide ticket and DVD sales, and in a world in which American flags are burned regularly from Paris to the Punjab, received wisdom has it that anything too “American” is international box office poison.

Anticipating anti-American blowback, Paramount and Marvel Studios actually offered distributors the choice of marketing the new movie using its real title—“Captain America: The First Avenger”—or opting for simply calling it “The First Avenger.”

Most distributors say they are going with the original title, eager to take advantage of decades of “Captain America” brand recognition. However, three countries—Russia, Ukraine and South Korea—have decided to promote the movie as “The First Avenger.”

By literally cloaking their character in patriotism, Kirby and Simon displayed unabashed love of, and confidence in, the United States. Like many Jewish Americans during World War II, such as the heads of Hollywood studios, they felt duty bound to use their creativity in the service of their country.

Alas, times have changed. Hollywood is now more concerned with international box office numbers than national pride, never mind respecting the obvious wishes of the two artists without whom Captain America wouldn’t exist.

Simcha Weinstein is a best-selling author whose latest book is “Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century.” He also chairs the Religious Affairs Committee at the Pratt Institute in New York.

Comics invade Sderot

Just 45 minutes from the hustle and bustle of beautiful downtown Tel Aviv is Sderot. Just 47 minutes from there is the Gaza Strip.

Location, location, location.

You know the old joke.

So who books Sderot? Answer is Avi Liberman.

Besides himself, this year, he brought Mark Schiff and John Mulrooney. Being comics on a five-city tour in Israel, Sderot was not one of the cities we were performing in. Yet, we found ourselves there anyway.

Avi has a no-nonsense approach to things. “Hey guys, they’re dropping bombs in Sderot almost every day. You want to go there for lunch?”

We were in Israel doing a series of fundraisers for Crossroads, a center for teens at risk. So we figured, let’s stick with the “at-risk” theme and head on down to a community that is at risk every day and grab something to eat.

The congregants at our synagogue back in Los Angeles, Young Israel of Century City, had given us more than $2,500 to spend in the embattled town, as they were suffering almost daily from Qassam rocket attacks.

We arrived along with the coordinator and publicist of our tour, Dena, and her husband, Jeremy, and were pretty moved at what we saw. We were shown the back of the police station with racks full of collected Qassams and just couldn’t believe how many there were. In the last seven years, more than 7,000 rockets have fallen on Sderot.

“We label each one and from what group fired them,” a cop told us.

Noam, our guide for the morning, was from the Sderot Media Center and decided that we should visit a man whose house got hit just a few days ago. Upon arriving, we saw that the kitchen was completely caved in, except for the menorah that was in perfect shape in what was left of his shattered kitchen window. He had stopped working to take care of his wife who took shrapnel in her leg.

His neighbor, a sweet, middle-age woman who we visited next, had a son who was also injured by a Qassam, and upon hearing the sirens, he now wets himself every time. We saw her again the following morning on the cover of the Jerusalem Post running with her daughter away from the school, which had taken a hit in the playground.

But enough of the tragedy (which goes on almost daily there). We were there to eat, and we were getting hungry. We first went to the falafel stand in the town square, and after ordering what amounted to about a $10 meal, gave the guy more than $100.

He smiled wide and asked whether it would be OK if he put a large sum of the cash in the tzedakah box on his counter.

“Do whatever you want with it,” we responded. “It’s not our money.”

Next, we went to an elderly woman who ran a small bakery. “How’s business?” we asked.

“When the Qassams aren’t falling, it’s fine,” she replied. “So right now, not so good.”

Mark got an apple Danish. It was three shekels. He gave her 100.

Avi then walked over and said, “I heard how good the apple Danishes were here.”

He got one and gave her another 100 shekels. John, an Irish Catholic who also wanted in on the joke, ordered a Danish and gave her 200.

The non-Jews always buy retail.

By this time, even she was laughing and couldn’t have thanked us more.

Walking into a small clothing shop, the salesman was trying to tell us that certain items were up to 30 percent off.

“Wow that’s great!” we’d say back, while Dena would be laughing in the background, knowing what we were up to. We bought two hats and paid double.

One store we went into was completely empty, and after paying 400 shekels for a pack of gum, the man graciously thanked us and told us he was closing at the end of the month if things didn’t change, because no one was around anymore.

One other market had a man who remembered Avi pulling the same thing last summer, and when Avi asked him about his two friends who were there previously, he told us they had moved away because of the situation.

Mark got a big laugh when he paid a woman for a haircut and said he didn’t have time to get one and would collect in a year, when he returned for his son’s bar mitzvah.

Even John, lucked out. Being Irish Catholic, he found some shamrock magnets in a small store and couldn’t have been more thrilled to overpay.

The second to last store we went into found Mark buying some hats for his wife, and when he paid double, the woman actually told us she was doing fine and refused, but knew where we could spend the last of our money.

“There’s an elderly Russian woman named Nina who is a seamstress,” the woman said. “She is really hurting right now. She has a small shop over there.”

We walked over, and all the woman had was some fabric in the store. She was in the middle of making a dress for someone. We bought a piece of cloth, telling her we were also in the business, and dumped all the money we had left, which amounted to about 600 shekels. After her initial shock, she offered us a receipt, but we said it was fine and she could keep it.

There’s an old saying that comedy is tragedy, plus time. Well, we can’t really make any jokes about Sderot, since the tragedy is still going on. All we can do is try and put a smile on a few people’s faces when we go there.

Lucky for everyone, that’s a smile you don’t have to be a professional standup comic to get. Try it yourself. You’ll be surprised just how good you are at it.

Go to Sderot on your next trip to Israel.

7 Days in The Arts

Saturday, November 19

Keshet Chaim Dancers and the Idan Raichel Project come together tonight to raise funds for some 20,000 Ethiopian Jews awaiting immigration to Israel. Raichel hasn’t made it to L.A. since last February, so this one-night-only concert might be your only chance for a while to see the ensemble voted “Group of the Year 2005” in Israel. Keshet Chaim will open with colorful dance numbers, including one that combines traditional Yemenite dance with hip-hop.

8 p.m. $45-$150. Kodak Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. (213) 480-3232.

Sunday, November 20

Celebrate L.A. Jewish authors today at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. Jewish Federation of San Gabriel Valley presents a special multiauthor day as part of its Jewish Book Festival, which begins with a bagel breakfast with Rabbi Abner Weiss, author of “Connecting to God: Ancient Kabbalah and Modern Psychology,” and continuing with a “Mystery Mavens” mystery writers panel and box lunch program featuring authors Rochelle Krich, Jerrilyn Farmer and Robert Levinson. The day concludes with an afternoon appearance by Peter Lefcourt, author of “The Manhattan Beach Project.” Attend one event or all three.

9:45 a.m. $18 (all-day). Individual tickets available. 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena. R.S.V.P., (626) 332-0700.

Monday, November 21

Now’s your chance to respond in person to Maureen Dowd’s doomsday New York Times column on the state of women today. The Writers Bloc presents Dowd, author of “Are Men Necessary?,” in conversation with her former boyfriend, “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin.

Temple Emanuel, 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (310) 335-0917. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Tuesday, November 22

American Jewish Committee and Temple Beth Sholom join with various Christian, Catholic, Muslim and Sikh organizations for a special Orange County-wide interfaith Thanksgiving service, celebrating the diversity of America’s cultures and faiths. The themes of hunger and homelessness will also be addressed, and participants are encouraged to donate to Orange County’s Second Harvest.

7 p.m. Free. Wallace All Faiths Chapel, Chapman University Campus, University Drive, Orange. (949) 660-8525.

Wednesday, November 23

Now at the Jewish Artist Network (JAN) Gallery is the group show, “Chance,” an exhibition of abstract paintings “for peace and the future.” The seven exhibitors will donate 20 percent of sales to the purchase of art supplies for underprivileged children.

Through Nov. 28. 8 p.m.-midnight (Tues., Thurs. and Sat.) or by appointment. 661 N. Spaulding Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 230-8193.

Thursday, November 24

What’s with Jewish guys wanting to be rappers? One more group for your, um, listening pleasure is Chutzpah, which recently released an eponymous CD. That is, if you can get over the hip-hop posturing and the disturbing image of the hairiest white guy we’ve seen in a basketball jersey.

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Friday, November 25

Opening this week is the Hammer Museum’s “Masters of 20th Century American Comics” exhibition. The extensive show features in depth views of works by 15 of the most celebrated American comic strip and comic book creators, including Harvey Kurtzman (Mad Magazine), R. Crumb (Zap Comix contributor) and Art Spiegleman (“Maus”).

10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7041.

Meow With a French Accent

Comic books aren’t just for kids anymore. In both the United States and France, they’ve been enjoying a popular explosion among readers of all ages.

One of the stars of the explosion in France is Joann Sfar, an enfant terrible whose work has become so popular, that it can be found on the bookshelves of hip intellectuals there.

The prolific Sfar, 33, at last count is the author of 40 different comic-book series, including the wildly popular “Little Vampire” and “Big Vampire.” But only two of them — “Dungeon” and “Little Vampire” — are available in English, and they have been aimed mainly at young adult readers.

This summer, however, Sfar’s profile in the English-speaking world is likely to be raised: The first volume of “The Rabbi’s Cat,” one of his best-loved series in France, will be released in English by Pantheon Books in August. Translations of “Big Vampire” and “The Tree Man” are in the works.

“The Rabbi’s Cat” chronicles the adventures of a talking cat, who lives in Algeria with a rabbi and his daughter. The first volume in the series recounts the cat’s desire to have a bar mitzvah. Along the way, it tells the story of how the cat learned to talk — he ate the parrot — and how he took on “the rabbi’s rabbi,” chiding his master’s teacher for his narrow, dogmatic approach to Judaism.

When asked about the abundance of Jewish themes and philosophy in his work, Sfar, who was born to an Ashkenazi mother from Ukraine and a Sephardi father from Algeria, says that for him, Judaism isn’t “an all-consuming passion” it’s just what he knows best. — Lauren Elkin, Jewish Telegraphic Agency


Drawing on Sept. 11


As he outran the toxic cloud of the dying World Trade Center, Art Spiegelman heard the voice of his father, the Holocaust survivor: “The world is treacherous. Keep your bags packed.”

“My initial response was ‘grab the family and flee,'” the famed cartoonist said of Sept. 11. “It was, ‘The world is ending and you’ve got maybe a half hour to get everyone to like, Paris, before it’s too late.'”

Yet as Spiegelman trekked back to his SoHo home that day, he felt pangs of affection for his vulnerable city.

“The first coherent sentence I uttered was, ‘Now I finally understand why some Jews didn’t leave Berlin right after Kristallnacht,'” he said. “The idea that I could safely sit in a cafe in Paris and go, ‘Look at the Herald Tribune, it seems Manhattan has been reduced to rubble,’ was intolerable to me.”

Instead, the Pulitzer Prize-winner churned out his first graphic novel since “Maus,” his account of his parents’ wartime experience, which depicted Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. If the two-volume “Maus” broke ground by presenting the Holocaust in comics, “In the Shadow of No Towers” (Pantheon, $19.95) defies expectations by blending cartoons with Spiegelman’s Sept. 11 misadventures (the author will present slides of his work next week in Los Angeles). The artist and his wife morph into Maggie and Jiggs as Arab Americans blame Jews on CNN; the Katzenjammer Kids lament that Uncle Sam has squashed the “wrong bug” (Saddam Hussein drawn as an “Iraknid”); Krazy Kat and Little Nemo appear with George Bush and Osama bin Laden. The oversized board book consists of 10 panels by Spiegelman and an additional seven pages he calls the “second tower,” historical funnies that influenced his work.

The author has made a name for himself by turning unfunny subjects into funnies.

“He’s radically changed the way people look at comics,” said Alan Rosen, a professor specializing in Holocaust literature at the University of Pennsylvania. “He’s pushed forth a new genre, using this ‘lowbrow’ medium to deal with traumatic events.”

“Spiegelman has, especially for American readers, given legitimacy to sequential graphic narrative as something appropriate for grownups,” said Lucy Shelton Caswell, curator of the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University.

Observers trace Spiegelman’s serious take on comics, in part, to his heritage. “He’s a child of survivors whose Holocaust legacy and his personality and his politics and his aesthetic sensibilities all shape how he describes the world,” said J.J. Goldberg, editor of The Forward, which ran serialized strips of “Maus” and “Towers.” “In many ways, he created the genre of second-generation angst, and I think that radiates in almost every image of his new book.”

In an interview two days after Sept. 11, 2004, Spiegelman, 56, said he still fears the world is ending, albeit slower than he thought three years ago. Professing to be chain-smoking Camel Lights, he called to mind a “Towers” strip in which his alter ego laments, “I’m not even sure I’ll live long enough for cigarettes to kill me. Cof! Cof!”

His rapid-fire conversation radiated caustic wit, an obsession with current events and a measure of post-Sept. 11 stress — although that didn’t curb his stream of sardonic stories. One apparent favorite was how, at 13, he renounced organized religion after Yom Kippur services at his Rego Park, N.Y., synagogue.

“My father insisted that I go with him to this boring day of prayer where I was just trying to figure out when to stand up and dunk my knees at the appropriate beat even though I didn’t know what the hell was going on,” he said. “So instead of dunking my knees I ducked out and had a sausage pizza slice, and when I wasn’t struck down immediately, I knew that was it for me.”

His parents’ Holocaust experience apparently made a more lasting impression. Several years after his mother’s 1968 suicide and his own short stay in a mental hospital, Spiegelman drew the first pages of what would ultimately become “Maus,” published in two volumes in 1986 and 1991. The Pulitzer-winning work depicts his parents’ betrayal into Nazi hands by smugglers, the horrors of the camps and Spiegelman’s difficult relationship with his prickly father, Vladek, years later.

His cartoon approach to the Holocaust initially raised eyebrows — and hackles.

“It’s one of two times in my life that I’ve taken a book and with all my strength, thrown it against the wall,” Rosen recalled of the first time he picked up “Maus.” But when he finally read the book, his outrage turned to admiration.

“Although Spiegelman used what was considered a frivolous medium, he pursued the topic seriously,” Rosen said. “His take allowed us fresh eyes with which to view the subject of the [Shoah].”

Spiegelman brings that fresh take to Sept. 11 in “Towers,” albeit with a Holocaust hangover. As he writes in his introduction, the events “left me reeling on that fault line where world history and personal history collide — the intersection my parents, Auschwitz survivors, had warned me about.”

The morning of Sept. 11, Spiegelman and his wife, New Yorker art director Francoise Mouly, were out walking when the first airplane struck the World Trade Center. In a panic, they ran to retrieve their then-14-year-old daughter, Nadja, at Stuyvesant High School three blocks from Ground Zero. They emerged back on the street in time to see an image that, Spiegelman said, is still tattooed in his brain: “It was the glowing skeleton of the north tower hovering just before it disintegrated,” he said, his voice radiating awe. ” I can’t tell you if those incandescent bones were before my eyes for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, but time stopped and I thought, this is it, The End of Days.”

Afterward, he suffered nightmares and insomnia; on automatic pilot, he created the now-famous New Yorker cover that depicted the Towers as black-on-black silhouettes, evoking what Spiegelman calls his “phantom limb syndrome.”

“I had to keep turning around to make sure the towers still were not there,” he said.

To exorcise his demons, he began drawing urgent diary entries about Sept. 11 and his growing terror at the government’s “hijacking of America based on the hijacking of the planes.”

He depicted himself as a pinwheel-eyed basket case and as an “impotent girlie-man” equally traumatized by Bush and Bin Laden.

“My ‘leaders’ are reading the Book of Revelations…. I’m reading the paranoid science fiction of Philip K. Dick,” he says in one panel.

But when Spiegelman sought publishers for these “Towers” strips, most United States publications declined — ostensibly because the work was perceived as incendiary, he said. Eventually, the work ran in European papers and in one American Jewish periodical, The Forward, in 2002 and 2003.

“I felt like they offered me the right of return,” Spiegelman said of The Forward. “I told the editors, ‘These strips aren’t Jewish per se,’ and they said, ‘That’s OK, you’re Jewish.'”

Spiegelman is chagrined, however, with those who believe he sees Sept. 11 primarily through the lens of Auschwitz. “This work is not a continuation of ‘Maus,'” he said. Even so, “Towers” draws certain parallels between his experience and Vladek’s, without diminishing the evil of the Shoah. In a number of panels, he depicts himself as his rodent character from “Maus”: “I remember my father trying to describe what the smoke in Auschwitz smelled like,” the character says. “The closest he got was telling me it was … indescribable. That’s exactly what the air in Lower Manhattan smelled like after Sept. 11.”

In other panels, a homeless woman screams anti-Semitic epithets at Spiegelman and an Arab American on CNN blames Jews for the attack, which annoyed the artist in real life. In fact, Spiegelman was so “PO’ed” by the canard that he ripped up a New Yorker cover he’d drawn urging tolerance toward American Muslims. “I went, f— ‘im! Let him get his own cartoonist,” he said.

If the events fueled his second-generation anxiety, he took solace in the kind of late 19th- and early 20th-century comic strips that decorate his Lower Manhattan studio. One panel from Sept. 11, 1901, describes the assassination of President McKinley; other strips reflect the carnage of World War I.

“The world was ending, as it does every day, but somehow life was being lived with lots of expressive feelings,” Spiegelman said. “These strips have a resonant majesty that allowed me to feel a kind of optimism even in the face of cowboy boots raining down over [the nation].”

Does the artist still feel the need to keep his proverbial bags packed? Not so much, he said. Rather, he’s like the “Towers” characters who have returned to lounging complacently in front of the TV, albeit with their hair standing on end.

“Of course, most Americans have discovered hair gel,” he said. “Mine is still standing on end.”

Art Spiegelman will give a slide lecture on Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Central Library, 630 W. Fifth Street (at the corner of Flower Street), Los Angeles. Standby-only available (arrive one hour before the event). For more information, visit or call (213) 228-7025.


Laughter From Experience

In Hollye Leven’s new rock ‘n’ roll musical, "Funny Business," comedians vie for attention at a seedy nightclub. They include Will, an intellectual African American, whose producers want him to be just "a little more black"; Art (Will Durst), whose career is so dead, if it were "a toe, there’d be a tag on it"; and Hannah (Iris Bahr), whose mom is an Israeli New York Jew. "You piss her off, she’ll not only make you feel guilty, she’ll give you the finger and bulldoze your house down," Hannah says.

The innovative production stars real comics, such as the Israeli-born Bahr, who perform parts of their act in the show. It’s the latest riff on comedians turning their work into theater (think Julie Sweeney’s "And God Said Ha!").

Leven, who first became fascinated by comics while working nightclubs as a musician, was adamant about using real comedians in the show.

"Stand-up is a very specific art form, and the people who can do it are a special breed," said the 49-year-old Jewish playwright ("Polo Lounge"). "They’re like our oral historians, commenting on what’s happening at a particular time in society."

The approximately 80 comics she interviewed as research were also like "an adult class of emotionally disturbed children"; during taped sessions, they’d insist she avoid the dark-side-of-the-clown cliché, then described mind-numbingly miserable childhoods. The author identified because she, too, had a difficult childhood, growing up with a mother incapacitated by multiple sclerosis.

"I loved the way they used comedy as a survival tool," she said.

But working with comics has its challenges, as Leven discovered during workshop productions since 1991.

"They’re not known for being team players," she said. "They all think they can do it funnier, but their suggestions usually make them the lead."

Director Sue Wolf, who’s worked on stand-up shows for HBO, handles such situations with humor: "I’ll say, ‘If I were directing this play …" she said. She uses her understanding of how each comic gets laughs to help them with character work.

It also helps that the show includes hilarious real-life stories from Leven’s interviews; one example is the scene in which a racist producer asks Art if his surname is Jewish.

"That’s just my stage name," he retorts. "I changed it from Hitler."

The show opens May 9 at the Coronet Theatre: (310) 657-7377.

Funny in Love

On the outside, the interfaith comedic coupling of Lahna
Turner and Ralphie May seems like an odd match: Lahna is a stunning Jewish
Canadian who blends witty spoken-word pieces with off-color songs, while
Ralphie is a morbidly obese Southern comic who delivers jokes with hip-hop
flava and subscribes to Flip Wilson’s Church of What’s Happenin’ Now.

The incongruous couple infrequently appear together on the
same bill in Los Angeles because of their divergent comedy styles and
conflicting road schedules, but this weekend finds them sharing the stage in a
rare double bill at the Irvine Improv.

When they first met in 1999 at the Laugh Stop in Houston,
Lahna was initially turned off by Ralphie’s 400-pound frame.

“As I got to know him I started to fall in love with him,”
Lahna said, “and I thought it was really shallow of me to not date him because
of his weight.”

Lahna later followed Ralphie to Hollywood, where he wrote
for Jay Mohr and was mentored by Buddy Hackett.

“Buddy said, ‘Oh my God, you’re dating a Jew broad? Run,
run. Their mothers are never happy,'” Ralphie said.

Lahna admits her mother wasn’t crazy about Ralphie at first.

“My parents would have preferred me to hook up with a Jewish
doctor,” she said. “My mom once tried to fix me up with her gynecologist.”

Ralphie was a fan favorite and finished second on the 2003
reality TV series, “Last Comic Standing,” which featured 10 comics living
together in a Hollywood Hills home and competing against each other for an NBC
development deal.

The two now live in a home near the Simon Wiesenthal Center
in Pico-Robertson, where Arkansas-raised Ralphie is still adjusting to the
culture shock. He said he likes most Jewish food, “but smoked whitefish freaks
me out.”

After sitting shiva for Hackett in July, Ralphie joined
celebrities like Al Roker and Carnie Wilson by undergoing gastric bypass
surgery to finally lose the weight. Lahna said Ralphie has lost 130 pounds in
the last four months.

The couple got engaged in February, and Lahna said they’ll
set the date “as soon as he’s able to buy a tuxedo off the rack.”

Ralphie May and Lahna Turner perform Fri, 8:30 and 10:30
p.m., and Sat., 7, 9 and 11 p.m. $20. Irvine Improv, 71 Fortune Drive, Irvine.
(949) 854-5455.

Comic Book Icon Battles Everyday Life

In the biopic "American Splendor," cranky comic book icon Harvey Pekar frets in the supermarket. "This may be the shortest line, but I’m taking a risk because it’s an old Jewish lady," he says. When the woman argues with the manager, he storms out of the store.

The banal but frustrating scenario is typical of Pekar’s autobiographical comics, the source for the well-received film. The movie chronicles his miserable life as a working-class intellectual in Cleveland, his dead-end job as a file clerk, his prickly third marriage, his weird friends, his cancer scare, his unplanned parenthood and his struggle to turn his life into a comic, although he can’t draw. An edgy hybrid of cartoon, drama and documentary, the film — by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman — won this year’s top prize at Sundance.

While previous comic book superheroes counterbalance their Jewish creators’ fear of anti-Semitism, Pekar empowers people in a different way. "By recording the average person’s mundane struggles, he elevates the ‘little guy,’" Pulcini, 38, said.

Pekar’s wry observations about these unsung heroes make him "the ultimate mensch of the comic world," Tikkun magazine wrote in 1992. In the tradition of Yiddishist-socialist authors of the early 20th century, he is "the self-educated, militantly egalitarian Jew in a world of pedigreed deceivers."

Not that Pekar, 63, has escaped his own case of Jewish paranoia. "His pessimism feels like Jewish immigrant angst," said Paul Giamatti, who plays the artist in the film. "That was crucial for me in approaching the role: his family’s Holocaust legacy and the financial instability of his childhood home."

At the Four Seasons Hotel recently, Pekar — looking incongruously cheerful in a Hawaiian shirt — described growing up with Polish parents who lost relatives in the Shoah. His mother, the daughter of a schochet (kosher slaughterer), was a communist who read the Daily Worker and refused to attend synagogue. His father, an Orthodox talmudic scholar, agonized over having to work Saturdays to eke out a living in the family grocery store.

"Every night he would play cantorial records, the last thing before he went to bed," Pekar said, quietly. "A lot of it was so mournful … I wouldn’t be able to sleep."

His 1992 comic, "Sheiboneh Beis Hamikdosh" ("That the Temple Will Be Rebuilt"), describes how he tried to like the music, but couldn’t until he was asked to review a cantorial record as a freelance critic in the 1970s. "Then I could see the beauty of it," said Pekar, who by then had lost his father. He named the ’92 comic after the most famous song of his father’s favorite cantor, Moshe Koussevitzky.

While Pekar now considers himself a champion of Jewish music, he preferred jazz albums in his youth. It was while scouring a 1962 garage sale for LPs that he met underground comic book artist Robert Crumb: "His work got me thinking that comics didn’t have to be just about superheros, but about wage slaves like me," Pekar said. When Pekar showed him the storylines he had created, Crumb agreed to illustrate them.

The result, in 1976, was "American Splendor," which made Pekar a godfather of autobiographical comics. Recurring characters included his nerdy co-worker, Toby Radloff (Judah Friedlander in the film), and an elderly pal who recalls pushcart peddlers in 1987’s "Pa-aypr Reggs!"

Other comics describe Pekar’s complex relationship with his wife, Joyce Brabner, who alternately praised and grumbled about her husband during an interview.

"I’m supposed to be the balabusta while the house is falling down around us," she said, wryly. "And there’s Harvey … with his elbows sticking through his sleeves, reading and reading because Jews are supposed to be the ‘People of the Book.’ It’s like ‘Knowledge is golden but money, well, that will take care of itself.’"

In fact, financial concerns were a reason Pekar sought to turn "Splendor" into a film starting in 1980. Two decades later, he finally enlisted producer Ted Hope and filmmakers Pulcini and Berman, known for lively documentaries such as "Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s."

"Our first point of bonding with Harvey was that we come from ethnic backgrounds he can relate to: Jewish and Italian," said Berman, 39. "The second point was that we were not going to turn him into some fake, Hollywood hero."

The writer-directors cast Giamatti ("Big Fat Liar"), known for precise portrayals of losers, to play the gloomy Jew. One of Giamatti’s techniques: "I found a CD of cantorial music and listened to it to evoke a melancholy mood."

Pekar, in person, transitions from melancholy to fretful — the kind of guy who’d agonize over the supermarket checkout line.

"I’m obsessive compulsive and unhealthily pessimistic, and the success of the film hasn’t changed that," he said.

"American Splendor" opens today.

A Man Without Fear

When Marvel Comics founding father Stan Lee createdDaredevil in 1964, he tagged his blind superhero: “Man Without Fear.” Thenickname also applies to Avi Arad, head of Marvel Studios, Marvel Enterprises’film/television division. Israeli-born Arad rescued Marvel from Chapter 11 inthe ’90s, turning it into a major film provider with “Spider-Man” and now”Daredevil.”

“Daredevil,” starring Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock, thelawyer-turned-vigilante with heightened senses, symbolizes Marvel’s catch-up torival D.C. Comics, which for decades had the Hollywood edge with billion-dollargrossing franchises “Superman” and “Batman.”

“Prior [Marvel] management was really afraid of the moviebusiness,” Arad said. “They were run by financial people who had no interest inentertainment.”

That changed when Arad put Marvel on the Hollywood map.Marvel’s first smash in 1998 came with only a minor character, Blade. “X-Men”followed in 2000, and “Spider-Man,” which took in more than $403.7 milliondomestically, became the fifth-highest grossing film of all time.

Raised near Tel Aviv, Arad served in the Israeli army beforemoving to America, where a job driving a Nabisco truck connected him with a toycompany.

“I got a job in research and development and found out I hada knack for inventing toys,” said Arad, 55. “So I went on my own.”

“If you had a successful toy,” said Arad — the creator of”My Pretty Ballerina” — “you turned it into a cartoon. It was a naturaltransition for me to expand into animation.”

Since coming aboard as Marvel Studios’ chief in 1993, Aradplayed a key role in saving Marvel Enterprises from bankruptcy and untangled anearly two-decade web of courtroom battles over “Spider-Man’s” film rights, asdetailed in Dan Raviv’s 2002 book “Comic Wars.” Over that time, movie specialeffects have come a long way.

“I don’t know if we could’ve made the ‘Spider-Man’ that wehave today even five years ago,” Arad said. 

After “Daredevil,” 2003 will bring “X-Men 2,” “Hulk” and theshooting of Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” sequel — with a Michael Chabon screenplay — for 2004. “Ghost Rider” (starring Nicolas Cage) and “Fantastic Four” will follow.

“He really cares about these characters,” Stan Lee saidabout Arad. “He gets the best writers and the best directors.”

So, will “Daredevil” attract a mass audience on a”Spider-Man” level while placating some diehard fans who feel that the movie’scasting choices and costumes stray too far from the comic?

As Arad told a reporter, “Ben Affleck looks good in even apaper bag.”

“Daredevil” opens in theaters Feb. 14.

7 Days In Arts


Beware the Yiddish Culture Club’s karma chameleon. Dwindling membership may mean those who value the group but are slow to join may find themselves without it soon enough. Tonight, they sponsor a concert by Cantor Hershl Fox titled “Let Us Sing Yiddish.” Check it out. No more excuses.7:30 p.m. $5 (members), $8 (guests). 8339 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (310) 275-8455.


The Yiddish are coming. All weekend long, it seems. In addition to Saturday’s concert, this weekend Adat Ari El hosts Yiddish playwright, conductor and general cultural authority Zalmen Mlotek. He’ll offer stories, a gathering for Yiddish speakers and a “khootenanny,” with accompaniment by Golden State Klezmer Band. You know you’ve always wanted to be able to say you’ve been to a “khootenanny.”Fri., Feb. 7-Sun., Feb. 9. 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 788-1679.


Skip out of work early today, prepare the sick excusesfor tomorrow morning and make the call to Papa John’s. Tonight, February Mondayscontinue with Star of the Month John Garfield on Turner Classic Movies. “TheBreaking Point,” “The Sea Wolf,” “Four Daughters,” “Daughters Courageous,” “FourWives” and “Between Two Worlds” play back to back till the wee hours of morning.It’s a commitment perhaps best reserved for die-hard fans of the Jewish toughguy. But you could always tape it. 5 p.m., Turner Classic Movies.



Sponsored by Istituto Italiano di Cultura (Italian Government Cultural Office), but nonetheless offered in English, is today’s talk at Cal State Long Beach on “Representations of the Holocaust in Italian Literature.” Speaker Stefania Lucamante gives a free lecture this afternoon. Extra credit for pronouncing her name correctly.4 p.m. Library West, Cal State Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach. (310) 443-3250.


Improper Brit artist (and grandson of Sigmund) Lucian Freud had the sass to give hint of 5 o’clock shadow in his commissioned portrait painting of the Queen Mum. Fact is, his portraits are often unflattering. But while we don’t suggest sitting for him, we do recommend MOCA’s “Lucian Freud” retrospective, consisting of 115 of his works from six decades, and now on loan from the Tate Britain. Considered Britain’s greatest living realist painter, Freud also debuts his new portrait of David Hockney in this show.11 a.m.-5 pm. (Tuesday-Sunday), 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (Thursdays). Runs Feb. 9-May 25. $8 (adults), $5 (students and seniors), free (members, children under 12 and everyone on Thursday evenings, 5-8 p.m.). 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 626-6222.


Opening this week at the Los Angeles Jewish Theatre is Richard Freedman’s play “Halevai.” It’s the stuff Harry Chapin songs are made of. The title means “if only” in Hebrew, and centers around the relationship between a father and son, and the “if only’s” the son is left to face after the death of his father.8 p.m. (Thursdays and Saturdays), 2 p.m. (Sundays). Runs Feb. 8-March 16. $14 (Thursdays), $20 (Saturdays and Sundays), $18 (seniors). 1528 Gordon St., Hollywood. (310) 967-1352.


To all the lovelorn and dejected on this, depressing ofall holidays, we say, “Chins up!” Personally, we’ve chosen to keep tellingourselves V-Day is just a stupid, capitalist-driven excuse for the masses toconsume chocolates and throw their happy little relationships in our faces. Butwe’re not having it. Our suggestion: Grab a pint — Ben and Jerry’s or Guinness,your choice — and hit the comic book store for an alternative kind of lovestory, on shelves today. “The Nine Loves of El Gato, Crime Mangler,” written andillustrated by Journal staff writer Michael Aushenker (and others), willdistract you from your own sorrows. You’ll be reminded that it could be worse –you could be a big, fat Mexican wrestler with a mask fetish and a distaste forbananas. $5. Available in comic book shops everywhere, or through

The Way of the Samurai

You couldn’t miss animation director Genndy Tartakovsky at last week’s San Diego Comic-Con International.

Like Secret Service agents blanketing a presidential gala, Cartoon Network operatives plastered posters everywhere, spreading the word of "Samurai Jack," Tartakovsky’s new series debuting Aug. 10. (Tartakovsky directed episodes of "Powerpuff Girls" and his own "Dexter’s Laboratory"). Not bad for a 31-year-old who arrived as a Russian immigrant speaking little English.

Tartakovsky will be among the hot names attending next week’s Eighth Annual World Animation Celebration. Co-sponsored by Animation Magazine and Variety, the Hollywood festival will kick-start a week of symposiums addressing cartoon industry issues.

Tartakovsky was 7 years old when he arrived in Chicago from Russia.

"The kids at school grip onto the easiest stereotype," Tartakovsky told The Journal, referring to the days when he was branded a Communist. "My parents never tried to hide the fact that we were Jewish."

The future animator learned English watching Warner Bros. cartoons and reading Marvel Comics (which inspired his "Justice Friends" superhero parody). "Dexter’s Lab" came about serendipitously after Tartakovsky was storyboarding Hanna-Barbara’s "Two Stupid Dogs," and a producer saw the young artist’s pencil test for a "Dexter’s" short. Instead of working his way up the animation ladder, Tartakovsky received his own series, Emmy nominations and commercial success. The popularity of "Dexter’s" and "Powerpuff" helped expand Cartoon Network’s viewership from 12 to 72 million. Tartakovsky called the experience "the most unrealistic thing you could think of."

"When I moved to America, I wanted to fit in and be American," said Tartakovsky, now married and expecting his first child in September. "We never tried to be too heavy handed with ‘Dexter’s, but if you look at the underlying themes of the show, it’s about a little kid trying to fit in."

The Studio City resident promises that "Samurai Jack," a valentine to cinematic masters Lean, Kirosawa and Hitchcock, will not resemble anything on television. Cartoon Network is already developing episodes for the third season. "A lot of experimental filmmaking will bring in an energy that we haven’t seen before."

"Dexter’s Laboratory" runs daily on Cartoon Network, which will premiere "Samurai Jack" on Aug. 10, 8 p.m.

The Eighth Annual World Animation Celebration runs Aug. 7-12. For information, call (818) 575-9615;

Comic Book Central

The Jewish American contribution to the comic book world is so vast and invaluable it can fill a library. In addition to James Sturm, here’s a look at some Jewish talent scheduled to appear at the July 19-22 San Diego Comic-Con 2001 at the San Diego Convention Center.

  • Brian Michael Bendis, white-hot young writer behind “Ultimate Spider-Man,” the critically acclaimed retelling of the webslinger’s origin.
  • “Wonder Boys” author Michael Chabon, who won the Pulitzer Prize this year for “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” his valentine to Jewish cartoonists of comics’ Golden Age.
  • Will Eisner is an undisputed master who introduced cinematic storytelling and noirish sophistication to comics in his 1940s-era series, “The Spirit.” As usual, he will serve as master of ceremonies at the prestigious Eisner Awards, named in his honor and presented each year at Comic-Con.
  • Writer Mark Evanier is co-creator of “Groo the Wanderer” with Sergio Aragones.
  • Two masterworks co-created by the late legendary artist Jack Kirby — “Captain America” (with writer Joe Simon) and “Fantastic Four” (with writer Stan Lee) — will be spotlighted on their 60th and 40th year anniversaries, respectively.
  • Golden Age artist Martin Nodell, creator of the original “Green Lantern” (not to mention designer of the Pillsbury Doughboy).
  • All eyes are on writer-director Sam Raimi (“Darkman,” “Army of Darkness), who is helming his dream project, Sony’s much-anticipated adaptation of Marvel’s “Spider-Man.”
  • From 1942-1954, writer Alvin Schwartz worked on “Wonder Woman,” “The Flash,” “Green Lantern” and other D.C. Comics titles. He also wrote both “Batman” and “Superman” newspaper strips.
  • Dan Spiegle, venerable artist best known for his clean, exquisite work on “Blackhawk” and “Korak, Son of Tarzan.”
  • Judd Winick first became famous on MTV’s “The Real World” but has since become an acclaimed cartoonist with projects such as the Eisner Award-nominated “Pedro & Me,” an homage to fellow “Real World” alumnus and AIDS activist Pedro Zamora, who died in 1994.
  • Oh, and yours truly will hold down the fort at the Original Syndicate Press area, signing copies of three “El Gato, Crime Mangler” books (look for the giant “El Gato” banner). Come say hello (but please, hold all Journal-related complaints…).

For more information on San Diego Comi-Con 2001, call their hotline at (619) 491-2475, or visit .

Remembering Poland’s Jews

Jewish roots in predominantly Catholic Poland canbe traced back to the 11th century. But when an estimated 88 percentof the 3.3 million Jews in Poland died in the Holocaust, thecountry’s thriving Yiddish theater, literature and culture ceased toexist as well.

The Jewish response to this tragedy is familiar tomany. But what was the reaction of the people of Poland? The UCLAFilm and Television Archive attempts to answer this question with theretrospective “Remembering the Jewish Experience in Polish Film,”which commences on Thursday, May 14. The series will featureselections from the past half century that examine the Polishresponses to World War II, as well as Jewish experiences before andafter the war.

Starting things off will be “Our Children,” a taleof two itinerant comics who stage a show about Warsaw ghetto lifeonly to be criticized by young orphans in the audience. One of thelast Yiddish-language films made, “Our Children” includes actualchild Holocaust survivors in its cast and was banned in Poland for 50years. Screening along with it will be “Postcard From a Journey,” a1985 film about a Jewish ghetto resident who calmly and methodicallyprepares himself for the horrors that await him in the concentrationcamps — and who teaches a young boy in his care to do thesame.

On Saturday, May 16, “Austeria” and “MarchCaresses” will screen. The former is set in a country inn, where anAustrian baroness, Chassidic Jews and a Hungarian soldier all seekrefuge from advancing Cossacks on the eve of the first world war.”March” concerns a Jewish high school student who’s framed forcorrupting Polish youth after a suspicious photo of a bruised bodyemerges.

The following night, the archive presents “WhiteBear,” based on a true story of a Jewish scientist who escapes fromthe grip of the Nazis and hides in a small resort by disguisinghimself as a performing bear. The 1959 film is followed by “There WasNo Sun,” the story of Chaja, a young Jewish woman who seeks refuge ata farmhouse, falls in love with a young man on the farm, only toevoke the suspicions of the Gestapo.

The series concludes on Tuesday, May 19, with “TheHunting Beater,” the tale of a group of Hungarian Jews who escape aNazi transport at the same time that a hunt is being organized for agroup of Nazi dignitaries; and “Still Only This Forest,” a film setin 1942 about a former worker for a wealthy Jewish family who agreesto smuggle the family’s young daughter out of the Warsaw ghetto tosafety, battling her own anti-Semitism and her growing affection forthe child.

All programs will begin at 7:30 p.m., with theSunday, May 17, screening scheduled for 7 p.m. The features are allin Polish with English subtitles, except for the Yiddish-language”Our Children.” Screenings will be held at the James Bridges Theater,located at the northeast corner of the UCLA campus, near HilgardAvenue and Sunset Boulevard. Tickets are $6 each, $4 for students andseniors, and are available at the theater, beginning one hour beforeeach show time. For more information, call (310) 206-3456.