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Here and Now: Barry Deutsch on Hereville

It’s hard to describe Hereville without a smile forming on your face. The heroine is incredibly likable, the storytelling is simply winning and brilliant, and the story is charming and fun. Here’s a brief description (and trust that I’m smiling while I write this): Mirka is a spunky 11-year-old girl who longs to obtain a sword so she can fight dragons. She lives in Hereville, an Orthodox Jewish community (in fact, there are mostly only Orthodox Jews in Hereville, except for the strange woman and her wicked pet pig who live in the forest). It’s a wonderful book for children and adults alike. Hereville began life as a webcomic, but it’s now been published by Amulet Books. I loved it and couldn’t wait to discuss it with the author, Barry Deutch. Here’s what he had to say.

You started Hereville as a webcomic. Did you always envision it as on online comic, or did you want to publish it traditionally at first?

I always intended for Hereville to wind up on paper. But I don't see it as an either/or choice; many of my favorite cartoonists now publish on the web and in trade paperback collections.

When did you first start working on this story?

I'm not even sure anymore! But I would guess sometime in 2004.

Where did the inspiration for Mirka come from?

Years before, I had played with an idea for a Jewish dragon-fighter in the middle ages—the barrier being that Jews were not always legally allowed to own swords. I abandoned that idea, but it was still swimming around in the back of my mind. I had also read Holy Days, Liz Harris' lovely book about Hasidic life, at some point years before.

My friend Jennifer Lee—creator of the astounding sci-fi comic Dicebox—told me that Girlamatic.com was looking for submissions of girl-centric comics. And somehow, from all the mess pooled up in the back of my mind, the idea of an 11-year-old Orthodox girl pining for a sword came up.

There aren't a lot of stories about Orthodox Jewish female fighters. Did you face much resistance when you began this story?

No, not at all! I don't think I've ever done a project that has been so nicely received. Apparently I've tapped into a previously unsuspected but surprisingly deep hunger in the general public for stories about tough 11-year-old Orthodox girls. I predict that in five years’ time, this genre will be as overcrowded as superheroes are today.

Have you found the Orthodox Jewish audience to be receptive to Hereville?

Well, there's no singular Orthodox audience, of course; most Orthodox Jews don't read comics, just like most of, well, everyone. But among those Orthodox Jews I've heard from, the response has been great. The webcomic had a number of regular Orthodox fans who helped me out by pointing out my errors, but always in a friendly way. I think they can tell that although I'm not Orthodox, I'm trying to portray these characters and their beliefs with genuine respect, and they respond to that.

What age group did you envision reading this while you were creating it?

I always write and draw for myself as the audience; I want to create comics that I'd be excited about if I were the reader. Now that it's come out, I think of it as "middle reader that anyone can enjoy."

Hereville works very well as a standalone story, but also as the first chapter in an ongoing series. How far out do you have the series planned? Do you see this going on indefinitely, or do you have a certain ending point in mind?

I see the Hereville books as potentially going on indefinitely, because there are so many residents of the town, and I could happily tell stories about them forever. But I do have some particular ideas in mind for Mirka's future, including what I think will be the conclusion of the Mirka-based stories. It'll be many years before I get to that, though.

One of the fascinating parts of the story is the large extended family Mirka has. How much more of them will we be seeing, and do you have any plans for them?

Mirka's relations who we see a lot in book 1—Gittel, Rochel, Zindel, and Fruma—are all characters I have real plans for. I also think we'll be seeing more of Chaya, one of Mirka's oldest sisters, who appeared in only one or two panels in the first book. After that, who knows?

What are you working on now?

I'm currently working on the second Hereville book. It feels so nice to say that!

 

-- John Hogan