March 9, 2009
NEW YORK- The controversy over the refusal of a Polish museum to return paintings created by a Holocaust survivor has entered a surprising new arena: the world of comic books.
Legendary comic book artist Neal Adams has teamed up with Holocaust historian Dr. Rafael Medoff to create “The Last Outrage,” a comic strip about Mrs. Dina Babbitt, a California resident who has been fighting for return of seven portraits that she was forced to paint in Auschwitz, by the notorious “Angel of Death,” Dr. Josef Mengele. The comic strip has just been published by Marvel Comics.
The paintings are being held by the Auschwitz State Museum, a Polish government-funded museum on the site of the former death camp.
“The fight for justice can be fought on many fronts, including through the medium of comic books,” said Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. “Neal Adams has brought the Babbitt struggle to life as only he can, and Marvel Comics has generously provided an international forum for this important cause.”
The “Last Outrage” comic strip appears this month in the fifth and climactic issue of Marvel Comics’ “X-Men: Magneto Testament.” The five-issue mini-series reveals that the powers of Magneto, arch-nemesis of the X-Men, originated in his experiences as a victim of the Holocaust. Because of the comic book’s Holocaust theme, Marvel felt it would be appropriate to include “The Last Outrage” as a supplementary story.
While imprisoned in Auschwitz in 1944, Dina Babbitt risked her life to paint a mural of Snow White in the children’s barracks at Auschwitz, to cheer up the children in their final hours. An image from Mrs. Babbitt’s recent re-creation of that mural is included in “The Last Outrage.”
When Dr. Mengele learned of Mrs. Babbitt’s artistic talent, he ordered her to paint portraits of a number of Gypsy prisoners on whom he planned to perform experiments. Some of those portraits are also reprinted, in miniature, in “The Last Outrage.”
After the Holocaust, Mrs. Babbitt settled in northern California and worked for many years as an animator for Warner Brothers and other cartoon producers, drawing characters such as Tweety Bird, Speedy Gonzalez, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, and Cap’n Crunch.
During the 1960s, the Auschwitz State Museum acquired seven of the Babbitt portraits, but has refused to return them to her, claiming the paintings “belong to history” rather than to their creator. Museum spokesmen have even claimed that Dr. Mengele is the legal owner. Ironically, the Museum sometimes does not even display all the originals, but instead exhibits high-quality reproductions.
(The Museum can be contacted via email at: Muzeum@Auschwitz.org.pl)
“The Last Outrage” is a rare collaboration between three of the biggest names in comic book history: Neal Adams, Joe Kubert, and Stan Lee.
Adams’ powerful realistic style of illustration has made him one of the most popular and influential artists in comic book history. It was Adams who revolutionized Batman in the 1970s, transforming the campy 1960s television character to the dark and gritty version that inspired the recent “Dark Knight” movie. Adams led a successful campaign in the 1970s by comic book artists for the return of their original artwork from the publishers. He also led the fight that resulted in Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster receiving long-overdue credit and some financial remuneration from DC Comics for their work.
“The Last Outrage” was inked partly by Joe Kubert, a highly influential artist and editor for DC Comics for more than fifty years. Kubert is also founder and head of the Kubert School for Cartoon and Graphic Art, in Dover, NJ, which has trained hundreds of leading comic book artists. Kubert’s acclaimed graphic novel, Yossel: 1943, imagines the experiences of a teenage cartoonist trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto.
The afterword for “The Last Outrage” was written by Stan Lee, longtime publisher of Marvel Comics and co-creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and many other famous characters.
Other recent developments in the Babbitt struggle:
* The Wyman Institute mobilized 450 cartoonists, animators and comic book artists from around the world to sign a petition supporting Mrs. Babbitt. The petition was spearheaded by Joe Kubert, Neal Adams, and J. David Spurlock of Vanguard Productions.
* A Wyman Institute petition supporting Mrs. Babbitt was signed by prominent art gallery owners and museum officials, including James R. Borynack, chairman of Walley Findlay Galleries International; Charles C. Bergman, chairman of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation; and Irving J. Borowsky, chairman of the National Liberty Museum.
* More than fifty lawyers and legal scholars signed a Wyman Institute petition supporting Mrs. Babbitt’s legal right to her paintings. It was spearheaded by Thane Rosenbaum, professor of Human Rights Law at Fordham University Law School, and Harry Reicher, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
The Babbitt controversy has been featured in recent months in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio and People magazine.