Gidi Gezer, drawn by Elisheva Nadal.

The editor, writer and journalist Yaakov Ashman was one of the driving forces behind Hebrew comics during the 1950s and 1960s. As the editor of Our Land magazine, he introduced the genre of adventure comics to a young Israeli readership. He personally served as writer for several of the magazine's most notable features, most of the time drawn by Elisheva Nadal. Their best-known creations are the daydreaming boy 'Lulu' and the carrot-chomping superhero 'Gidi Gezer'.

Early life
Yaakov Israel Ashman (יעקב אשמן) was born in 1926 in Tel Aviv. His father was an oil salesman, his uncle the Hebrew writer and playwright Aaron Ashman (1896-1981). Yaakov attended Herzliya Gymnasium, where he stood out for his charisma and interest in literature and philosophy. Afterwards, he worked as a notary for a police office in the Beit She'an area. Even though his dayjob was in service of the British government, he also joined the underground resistance group Lehi, that aimed at evicting the British authorities from Palestine. Later, he was a student of Hebrew language at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus. On Fridays, he returned to Tel Aviv to replace his father in his mule-driven oil cart, attracting customers by ringing a bell.

Canaanite movement
During this period, Ashman was also a member of Canaanite, a movement of Jewish intellectuals from Mandatory Palestine, that included the columnist/painter Amos Kenan, the writer Benjamin Tammuz, the poet Aharon Amir and other members from Israel's cultural elite. Ashman, Kenan and a couple of other youthful members however felt out of place with the rest of the group, that largely consisted of European exiles. Ashman and his friend Amos Kenan were Israeli-born, spoke in slang instead of Hebrew, were more militant and aversed to the strict ideology of the older members. Ashman became a writer for the short-lived Canaanite magazine Alef - co-founded by Kenan - working under his own name and under pseudonyms. He particularly wrote critical and reflective articles on the Arab-Israeli War and the Zionist leaders, as well as a venomous parody of the values and myths of the Palmach fighting force.


Haaretz Shelanu magazine.

Our Land
After the Arab-Israeli War, Yaakov Ashman and Amos Kenan were imprisoned by the Israel Defense Forces, but released again shortly afterwards because they were still students. Ashman then completed his studies, worked as a teacher at the Herzliya Gymnasium and then became a journalist for This World. In 1952, he joined the editorial staff of the six-month-old Hebrew children's newspaper Haaretz Shelanu (הארץ שלנו, "Our Land"), which was at the time edited by his fellow Canaanite Benjamin Tammuz. For many years, Ashman was a reporter, writer and deputy editor, and in 1965 he became the editor-in-chief. He wrote editorials, columns, articles and stories and opened the pages of Our Land to a new generation of poets, writers and cartoonists. During the 1950s and 1960s, Our Land became a mouthpiece for teenagers, becoming the country's longest-running and most popular children's magazine.

Lulu and other children's stories
As deputy editor, Ashman wrote many of the story features himself, and several of them were illustrated by the Polish-Israeli painter and illustrator Elisheva Nadal-Landau. On 7 May 1952, they launched the adventures of 'Lulu', an illustrated column about the fantasies of a sensitive urban boy. The episodes appeared either as comic strips or as illustrated columns. Partially based on the author's own childhood dreams, Lulu writes in his diary about everyday problems. With his strong imagination, he fantasizes about what could have been, for instance having hypnotic skills and controlling the will of the children that harass him. Some episodes see him living on the North Pole with the Inuits, flying on an artificial moon or talking with animals, while other ones are more sensitive, for instance when he imagines saving the life of the girl he is secretly in love with. In 1954, Lulu also appeared in the adventurous comic serial 'On a Lonely Island', in which Lulu follows in the footsteps of Robinson Crusoe.

In 1958, Lulu's text story adventures were published in book format by Hadar Publishing, and in 1979 a 'Lulu' audiotape was released. Ashman continued to write other children's books, for instance 'In the Egyptian Spy Tangle: The Adventures of Uri and Gideon' (Compass Publishing, 1953), 'The Naughty Black Cat' (Hadar, 1959) and 'My Dad Works' (Hadar, 1963).


Lulu - 'On a Lonely Island', drawn by Elisheva Nadal (1954).

Adventure comics
Besides children's literature, Yaakov Ashman also tried his hand at adventure comic serials. By filling the magazine's story section with these type of features, Ashman caused a revolution in the Hebrew children's press. While most of the other editors treated these picture stories with contempt, Ashman was the first to see the possibilities of the comic medium. One of his earliest creations was 'The Trio Following The Treasure' (1951-1952), a serial in 29 episodes, drawn by Mein Shenhav. The first adventure comic story in the Hebrew press, the story follows three brave Israeli boys - the tall and bony Pineapple, the gluttonous Pear and the little Pickle - on a treasure hunt on the Solomon Islands. The 30-part sequel, 'The Trio's Journey in the Space Ship', was the first sciencefiction story in Israeli comics. Visiting another planet, the three heroes get caught up in a struggle between good plastic men and evil steel men. Years later, in October 1967, the writer and artist Dany Palant created a third serial with the characters, called 'The Trio in the Heart of Brazil'.

With the cartoonist Dosh, Ashman additionally made the biblical comic serial 'Amnon volunteers too' ('Gam Amnon bamitnadvim', 1954), about the heroism of a Hebrew boy in the days of Deborah the prophetess. Another Ashman comic series was the two-parter 'Yair and his friend Avir' (1954), illustrated by Elisheva Nadal, about a brave dog helping his human friend fight snakes, infiltrators and opium dealers. In the second story, Ashman introduces an Arab boy who secretly comes to look for his old home in Jaffa. By showing the sense of helplessness of the heroic child, Ashman showed his sympathy for the Arab refugees.


'Amnon Volunteers Too', artwork by Dosh.

Gidi Gezer
Yaakov Ashman's most famous comic creation were the adventures of 'Gidi Gezer' (1953), again a co-production with Elisheva Nadal. Set in different periods of time, Gidi Gezer is an Israeli young man who gains superpowers after eating carrots. He uses his powers to fight thugs in the kibbutz, defeat the British army in the 1948 Israeli War for Independence and later the Egyptians during the 1956 Sinai War. A total of five stories were serialized in Our Land magazine. Along the way, Gidi's adventures became more serious, and his superpowers less prominent. The final installment in the series was written by another writer. In the wake of Gidi Gezer, other heroes with super powers appeared in Our Land's magazines, for instance 'Ephraim the Eye of the Eye', about a boy with X-ray eyes, written by editor Shmuel Shichur.

Finals years and death
By the late 1950s, Yaakov Ashman stopped writing comic stories, and focused on editing Our Land instead. New comic artists were welcomed in the magazine's pages, for instance Dany Palant and Asher Dikstein, while Pinchas Sadeh became a prominent writer. Becoming chief editor in 1965, Yaakov Ashman remained in office until his unexpected death of a heart attack in 1974. He was only 48 years old. Our Land magazine dedicated an entire issue with obituaries and tributes to its beloved editor. The magazine also instated an Ashman Prize for "Best Children's Story". Uriel Reingold became Yaakov Ashman's successor as editor-in-chief, and in 1985, the magazine merged with the competing children's magazines Davar Leladim and Mishmar Lechanim. This merger stranded after a couple of years. In the final issue of Our Land, many of the classic comic series of the magazine's rich history were mentioed, including Yaakov Ashman's signature creations Lulu and Gidi Gezer.

Yaakov Ashman on the "Multi-universe of Eli Eshed" blog (in Hebrew)

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