Love them or hate them, comic books are here to stay. Even during these times when everything north of the sun can be found via a broadband connection, comic books still have that mass appeal. Yes that appeal may be viewed by some as being â€œstrictly for geeks,â€ but can you name another medium that captures a vast array of feelings and musings using such simple methods? We at Format know the importance of a good comic and that is why we managed to take five with the ultra talented illustrator Tomer Hanuka, picking his brain and finding that blood is thicker than the ink. We also discover why comics are still so loved, his own passion for the art and how Hollywood may be able to play an important part in the future of the industry.
“I love the language of comics; getting lost in a comic is a unique experience, different than a film or a book.”
Format: For those who may not know, could you explain who Tomer Hanuka is and where people may have seen some of your work?
Tomer Hanuka: Iâ€™m an illustrator and a cartoonist based in New York City. I work on a range of projects for magazines, book publishers, ad agencies and film studios. I teach at the School of Visual Arts.
Format: So you studied at theÂ School of Visual Arts? What was that like?
Tomer Hanuka: Fantastic, but in a very subjective way. I got a chance to meet some amazingly motivating talents, and had teachers who are working pros. New York itself is maybe the ultimate growingÂ experienceÂ in the way itâ€™s set up for the young and hungry to become comfortable and still hungry. Now that Iâ€™m teaching at SVA, I get toÂ experienceÂ the process from the other end and the sense I had as a student has beenÂ confirmed; it is what you make of it. You can sail though four years of college and end up knowing nothing, or you can treat everyÂ assignmentÂ like aÂ suicideÂ mission. A good school canÂ supplyÂ excellent tools but thatâ€™s only half of theÂ equation.Â
Format: Where did your passion for drawing come from? Is it something that runs in your family?
Tomer Hanuka: I grew up in Israel where the sun bleaches out the color out of everything, and early on got hooked on comics. This was the late 70’s and for production reasons mostly, the colors in these pamphlets where pumped to the max. I want to say it wasÂ escapism, but I had a terrific childhood. It wasÂ exotic, the whole idea of superheroes, visual icons, worlds within panels. My brother and I lived in those panels as much as we did outside of them, and soonÂ enoughÂ we started constructing our own.
Format: When did you decide to move away from Israel to pursue your passion for drawing?
Tomer Hanuka: The decisionÂ simmeredÂ while I was going through a three year mandatory army service. A few months after I was out, I took my life savings – which were justÂ enoughÂ to last me a year – and hoped to work something out.Â
Format: You work closely with your brother Asaf who is also a comic book artist/illustrator. What is your relationship with him like? Do you find that you both push each other to work harder and better?
Tomer Hanuka: We haveÂ complimentaryÂ skills and no ego issues so itâ€™s perfectÂ groundsÂ for collaboration. WeÂ shareÂ a similar value system and when there is a disagreement and there always is, we can zoom out and reconsider. We took what was quite a hermetic childhood of drawing together in the same bedroom, on the same desk, andÂ sometimesÂ on the same piece of paper, we took that and for a decade or so went to very different, even opposingÂ destinies, trying to defineÂ ourselvesÂ through a personal aesthetic that was individual only to each of us andÂ independentÂ of the other. If you boil it down to the most general terms, it means Europe versus the U.S., once that was established, and each of us had his own sense of self, the road to working on the same piece paper againÂ seemedÂ like the natural next step.
“A chain link of associations flicker endlessly in our psyche, all fused with culture weâ€™ve consumed at one point and all 100% authentically ours.”
Format: That next step was Bi-Poplar, the comic you and your brother created. It is very much an experimental piece of work. Whose idea was it to split the book in two and where did the idea came from?
Tomer Hanuka: After we graduated collage (Asaf in France, myself in New York) we wanted to do a project together. Each brought his own voice and we hoped that there would be an interestingÂ relationshipÂ between the works byÂ publishingÂ theÂ materialÂ under the same cover, even though (or maybe because) we were doing very different things at that point. Asaf adapted a story by Etgar Keret, aÂ renownedÂ Israeli author, and I wrote and drew short stories.Â
Format: You worked on the highly acclaimed animation documentary/film Waltz With Bashir, what was your input towards that?
Tomer Hanuka: I contributed key framesÂ thatÂ were later taken apart andÂ animatedÂ into a scene by the animator. David Polonsky was the art director and the main artist on the project, and he invited a handful of other artists to contribute.
Format: How proud are you of your work towards that, the praise it received amongst critics was quite incredible, especially for an animation feature?
Tomer Hanuka: The reception of the movie was crazy and mostly unpredictable. Itâ€™s a story about a war thatÂ happenedÂ between Israel and Lebanon in the 80â€™s, not exactly theÂ materialÂ blockbusters are made of, and yet somehow it translated into aÂ universallyÂ relatable artÂ experience. Iâ€™m very proud to have had a part in it. Â
Format: Are there any fellow artists that you admire, or who would love to work with?
Tomer Hanuka: I was lucky to be at the School of Visual Arts when a bunch of super talented young artists attended, and since graduation weâ€™ve published a (sort of) yearly anthology called Meathaus; these are people who I am inspired byÂ constantly. I think the last collection is really great, itâ€™s called S.O.S. and it has works by Thomas Herpich, Farel Dalrymple, James Jean and BrandonÂ GrahamÂ just to name a few. On a broader global scale, Iâ€™ve been enjoying the work of Lorenzo Mattotii and Nicolas de Crecy for at least a decade.Â
Format: What are your views on the medium of comic books or more recently, graphic novels? I mean there is a definite love/hate relationship with them, but yet there is also something quite ingenious about them.
Tomer Hanuka: I love theÂ languageÂ of comics; getting lost in a comic is aÂ uniqueÂ experience, different than a film or a book. Like any medium there is trash and there are masterpieces, and then the 90% that is in between these poles. Itâ€™s hard to make a blanket judgment on a form, and maybe we shouldnâ€™t.
Format: You mention the â€œlanguageâ€ of comics – Where do you find your inspiration? From general observations and past experiences or just from your imagination?
Tomer Hanuka: All of the above. Art is a big part of it, books, movies, and images. Can you imagineÂ your lifeÂ without them? We are all made of other peopleâ€™s dreams, ourÂ memories, a song that reminds us of that girl, a chain link ofÂ associationsÂ flickerÂ endlesslyÂ in ourÂ psyche, all fused withÂ cultureÂ weâ€™ve consumed at one point and all 100%Â authenticallyÂ ours.
“I want to say [my early love for comics] was escapism, but I had a terrific childhood.”
Format: It looks like comics/graphic novels are going to be the source for a lot of Hollywood films in the next few years. Do you feel that this is a good thing or maybe something that may hamper the medium in the long term?
Tomer Hanuka: I think itâ€™s a Hollywood thing, not a comic thing. If it raisesÂ awarenessÂ to the medium, and more people areÂ interestedÂ in comics, that means that more books will be created and we would be able expand the pool of good books that could be enjoyed and that canâ€™t be a bad thing.
Format: Now Watchmen is regarded as the greatest comic/graphic novel ever created, and has recently undergone a big screen adaptation. Have you had the chance to watch it yet? Are you a fan of the comic?
Tomer Hanuka: Sure, the comic isÂ brilliant. I re-read it recently, still holds after all these years. I have yet to see the film though.
Format: So what is on the horizon for Tomer Hankua?
Tomer Hanuka: Up next is an art book and a graphic novel.
Format: Any chance you could give some details regarding the graphic novel?
Tomer Hanuka: Itâ€™s different than anything I have done previously. Thatâ€™s about all I can say.