Comic book slant on the community

IT was during Ted Janet’s time in Los Angeles as a student, while he was feeling homesick, that the seeds were planted for a new book based around his childhood days in Melbourne’s Jewish community.

“I was telling stories of places that I’ve been, describing particular streets, coffee shops and landmarks, vividly trying to recapture a sense of place,” he explains.

“By the end of it, the person I was speaking to knew everything about me and where I came from.”

Janet figured a comic book would be ideal to explore his community, and in October 2012 he began writing an introduction for the book, titled Balaclava Junction.

“I thought, I really have to do something that’s just mine, in case I get struck by lightning and die horribly on the spot. And so I decided I would write a comic book,” he recalls.

The rest, as they say, is history. Balaclava Junction was launched last month at Melbourne’s Embiggen Books in front of a packed crowd.

Created by screenwriter Janet and illustrator Baruch Inbar, Balaclava Junction combines a graphic telling of local history with biographies of noted residents, including singer-songwriter Shelley Segal and cult expert Raphael Aron.

“We’ve used interviews and true stories and imaginary walks through a real space as motivators for discovering a story. It’s part-journalism, part-biography,” says Janet.

After more than two years in the making, Janet, 25, is pleased to see the project on the shelves.

“It turned out better than I could have imagined,” he enthuses. The project came to fruition partly due to crowdfunding – a method that is becoming increasingly popular for artists seeking to get their work off the ground.

“We had a lot of community support; a lot of people who really saw some potential in it as an experimental work,” he says.

Meanwhile, production of Balaclava Junction spurred an unexpected second comic titled The Adventures of Haman.

It stemmed from Janet depicting his relationship with his oldest friend, Daniel Leber, in Balaclava Junction.

However, Leber wasn’t satisfied with the way he appeared in the comic and sent Janet some sketches of his own.

“He doesn’t think of himself as creative or an artist in any sense, but he did this one-page strip, called The Adventures of Haman,” explains Janet.

“It drew Haman as per Purim; he was still the genocidal villain that you expect from the book of Esther, but he had strange qualities although some of them were adorable.

“We found that we actually liked Haman and didn’t want him to be evil, so we reinvented it. If you’re Jewish you’ll pick up a few in-jokes, but largely it’s supposed to be a separate story from any biblical or scriptural Haman.”

With Balaclava Junction, Janet hopes to appeal to readers who do not normally look at comics.

He has established a small publisher, Gonzo Comics, designed for special interest and satire comic books.

“Our goal in the immediate future is to be a sustainable publisher of comics, and to create material that is unique, but also to bring it to people who wouldn’t otherwise look at it.”

In a changing digital landscape, Janet feels the comic book world is a fresh space where there are many new angles to come from.

“I think that people today live in a digital world … we exist as individuals, as avatars, as proxies – and most people of my generation couldn’t name their neighbours,” he says.

“Family and community are the most important thing; I just don’t know what they look like anymore. I hope, out of Balaclava Junction, that that conversation is considered.”

Balaclava Junction and The Adventures of Haman are available at www.gonzocomics.com.au.

REPORT by Phoebe Roth

PHOTO of comic book creator Ted Janet.