Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Syrian mother living under siege is Marvel’s newest superhero

Comics company teams up with US news channel to tell story of family's struggles in besieged city of Madaya
Madaya Mom is available online for free on the ABC News website. Drawings were done by a croatian Marvel artist named Dalibor Talajic. Thomas Urbain / AFP
Madaya Mom is available online for free on the ABC News website. Drawings were done by a croatian Marvel artist named Dalibor Talajic. Thomas Urbain / AFP

Besieged by the Syrian government for two years, the city of Madaya has had little contact with the outside world in that time – it is barely reachable by aid convoys, let alone journalists.

So Marvel Comics, best known for its muscular costumed superheroes, teamed up American TV channel ABC News to find another way to show the world the devastating reality of life under siege.

ABC journalists had been in contact with a woman living in Madaya – home to about 40,000 people near the border with Lebanon – who chronicled in a series of blog posts her fight to survive the harsh conditions brought on by Syria’s civil war, which is now in its sixth year.

The two Disney-owned companies created Madaya Mom, a free, digital comic based on the anonymous dispatches by the young mother of five as a way to reveal the horrors their cameras could not access.

The illustrated pages are far less bloody than they are heartbreaking. Combined with the powerful words of the mother – whose identity is kept secret to protect the safety of her family – they speak to the severe hardships trapped families are enduring.

Since Madaya came under total siege in the middle of last year, more than 60 people have died of famine and malnutrition.

“Our bodies are no longer used to eating,” the woman says in one panel. “My children are hungry but are getting sick, severe stomach pains from the food because their bodies aren’t able to digest and absorb the food because they were hungry for so long.”

Artist Dalibor Talajic said he made a conscious effort to avoid straying into the sensational with his artwork.

“I didn’t want to do a war comic,” said the Croatian artist – who lived through the break-up of Yugoslavia’s in 1991. “I wanted to make a comic with a civilian point of view, where you’re really powerless.

“You can’t do anything. You’re just waiting for it to pass or for you to die.”

Talajic is best known for his work on Deadpool, a comic about an antihero who was featured in a smash-hit film of the same name earlier this year.

The illustrator said he is “not a typical Marvel artist, where everything must be larger than life,” preferring instead to stay anchored in reality. “I always try to keep things more familiar, more grounded, more probable.”

But attempting to convey the grim daily life of besieged Syrians without sensationalising it was no easy task.

“It was challenging,” Talajic says, noting that he never saw any photos of the mother or her family. “It’s like blade running the thin line of being exploitive of someone’s hardship.”

The brutal story of daily life under siege is broken up with occasional small, bright moments.

“It is a mother, but it is every mother,” Talajic said. “It is a family, but it’s every family.”

This is not Marvel’s first foray into real-life heroes: the comic-book company has also depicted the stories of Pope John-Paul II, St Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa.

ABC managed to deliver some of Talajic’s images to the Syrian mother.

“She found that he really nailed the features of the people, the ambience, the town,” says ABC News Producer Rym Momtaz.

“If she ever gets out,” artist Talajic said, “the pictures will go to her.”

You can read Madaya Mom at the ABC news website.

artslife@thenational.ae

Updated: October 9, 2016 04:00 AM

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