By Bob Calhoun
Neal Adams is surprisingly effervescent for a man about to sit on a Comic-Con panel on the Holocaust. ”There aren’t more Jews here?” the comic art legend barks as he surveys the room. ”Go out there and get more Jews!” he says, urging random audience members to help pack the room.
“Leave the door open and drag people in. Call out, ‘Jews! Jews!’ And, hell, ‘Non-Jews!’ Why not?”
But Adams’ jocularity when addressing mechanized genocide is actually part of the plan.
“When a movie or documentary about the Holocaust comes on, and you say, ‘No I don’t want to watch the Holocaust,’ we’re trying to solve that problem,” Adams explains.
And Adams is solving this problem with “They Spoke Out: American Voices Against the Holocaust,” a series of motion comics produced by Disney in collaboration with the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies that’s now available on DVD.
“These are the stories of six different individuals who did fight back,” Adams, says of the new DVD. “These are stories about the Holocaust that you haven’t heard before.”
Watching the episode of “They Fought Back” about 1930s New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia’s efforts to protest the Nazis as they rose to power, Adams is able to maintain his emphasis on entertainment value, even while tackling the heaviest subject matter one can think of. Comic book style lettering punctuates Adams’ narration, as photographs and archival film footage are combined to shed light on these previously untold stories of defiance in the face of evil.
“We can go into history and tell these stories because we can do it with drawings,” Adams says of his new approach.
Also on the panel with Adams is Dr. Rafael Medoff, founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute and a big comic book fan.
“To me, Neal Adams was the guy who revolutionized Batman,” Dr. Medoff enthused. “When I met first met him, it was the trembling appearance of a fanboy.”
But Medoff was surprised to discover that Adams lived in Germany when he was 10-years old right after the conclusion of World War II. Adams’ father served in the US Army’s occupying forces. During Adams’ time in Germany, US government officials showed the children of soldiers three hours of raw footage taken during the liberation of the concentration camps to test how much of the staggering horror that American audiences could take.
“I didn’t talk to anyone for a week,” Adams recalls. “I didn’t even talk to my mother for a week.”
But Adams doesn’t dwell on this trauma for very long before shifting back into the carnival huckster mode that comes naturally to him.
“One of our goals is here is for you to buy all 200 discs that we brought so Disney will let us make more of these things,” he says, before squabbling with his most devoted fans over whether or not to leave the door to the conference room open during the panel.
“We can’t hear,” someone says from the back of the room.
“Well then come on over here!” Adams says, motioning to the front row. “Pretend this is a living room.”
Copies of “They Spoke Out: American Voices Against the Holocaust” are available at booth 1709 at Comic-Con.
Bob Calhoun is the author of “Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor” (Obscuria Press, 2013). You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun