When acclaimed veteran South African cartoonist Dov Fedler celebrated his 82nd birthday recently, he received a gift of the first copy of a book he had spent 35 years working on.
Titled Gagman, the book isn’t full of political and satirical cartoons as one would expect from Fedler, but a Holocaust story with a difference.
The book was conceived in 1985 when, said Fedler, “the story just jumped into my head” and he sat down and “wrote it in a flash”. The story is about a comedian in a concentration camp who survives by entertaining the commandant. “He would give his soul for a new joke,” said Fedler. “He knew that the moment he was no longer entertaining, he would die.”
Fedler said it took him until 1995 to understand where his idea had come from. “I was living on deadlines and every single day, I had to produce a cartoon and it had to be funny. If you break down the word deadline, you have dead and line. So, the story was a metaphor for myself times a thousand. It was me telling history and my story in a way.”
He revealed this recently in a video conversation with his daughter, Joanne, an accomplished author in her own right, and Lewis Levin, a family friend and the architect of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Museum.
“I felt like I grew up with Gagman,” Joanne said. “I remember my dad talking about him when I was a teenager and early adult. I remember writing a poem about him when my dad was 54, and now I’m 54.”
The project went on for many years and took on many iterations. “It wasn’t just the writing of the book but the many illustrations that took time, and it got to a point where it felt like the project was never going to come to fruition,” said Joanne.
Fedler battled to tell a story about someone who had lived through the camps, which wasn’t his own experience. However, the Holocaust certainly played a role in his life.South African Jewish Report
WE ARE DELIGHTED TO ANNOUNCE THAT, TOGETHER WITH PROTEA DISTRIBUTION, KARAVAN PRESS IS THE SOUTH AFRICAN DISTRIBUTION PARTNER FOR DOV AND JOANNE FEDLER’S HAUNTING NOVEL, GAGMAN.
A prisoner in a WWII concentration camp discovers a superpower that could keep him alive – he can make the commandant laugh by telling jokes. Pushed to ends of his wit and humanity, Gagman is propelled into a spiralling madness in which he would sell his soul for a gag simply to live another day.
Evoking themes from The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Fedler weaves the story of a Faustian bargain brokered in hell, where redemption only comes in the form of a punchline. He must stay funny – or die.
Enhanced by Fedler’s own haunting illustrations, Gagman masterfully juxtaposes humour and pathos, while exploring themes of survivor guilt, desperate determination and the search for the meaning of life in the wake of the Holocaust. Swapping his yellow star for a tattered comic book, Gagman roams the new world and our consciousness determined to find answers to the deepest questions about loss, hope and belonging.
Gagman is a touching and unique tale of survival through unimaginable horror.
PRAISE FOR GAGMAN
“Gagman is a daring and uncompromising work, both allegory and achingly real — a confronting, haunting, and disturbing descent into hell, drawing on word and image to create a world in which to remain sane one must go mad. Dov Fedler totally inhabits his protagonist, and pushes his craft and his imagination to the limits to expose the horrors of Nazism, and to explore the redemptive power of art, humanity and humour.” — Arnold Zable
“Dov Fedler, in Gagman, has plunged the reader into a crazy world where the Holocaust collides with Superman and Nietzche and the result is a virtuosic graphic and written allegory. It is a very original take on a highly contested history – who can tell the story of the Holocaust? Through a pastiche of Talmudic scholarship and confronting black humour, Gagman is a way of looking into the abyss. A 21st century Scheherazade, a tale for our times.” — Sydney Jewish Museum
“Gagman is a searing and brilliant book which does more to expose the horrors of the Nazis than any book since Eli Wiesel’s Night.” — Alan Gold
“With a humour so searing and audacious it made me gasp, revered cartoonist Dov Fedler bears witness to the horrors of the Holocaust in this extraordinary work of startling originality and ingenuity.” — Suzanne Leal, author of The Deceptions
“Gagman is an extraordinary piece of work — strange and haunting and uniquely itself.” — John Maytham
“Can we transform suffering into art and, more outrageously, into humour? Two Jews walk into my heart with a book that made me laugh and cry at the same time. Gagman treads the edge of the forbidden joke, speaking to the histories of all marginalized people. A book of bitter and sweet nuance in which ‘everything is speakable’.” — Tyson Yunkaporta, author of Sand Talk
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
DOV FEDLER, one of South Africa’s legendary political cartoonists (now retired), has been working on this story for 35 years. His earliest dream was to work for Walt Disney but he ended up working for The Star newspaper as their cartoonist in the early 1970’s instead, and had a career that spanned half a century. Gagman is his fourth book. His previous titles include his memoir, Out of Line (Tracey McDonald Publishers, 2015), If You Can Write, You Can Draw (Joanne Fedler Media, 2018) and Starlite Memories (Tafelberg, 2020).
JOANNE FEDLER is an internationally bestselling author of 14 books, speaker and publisher. Her book Things Without a Name has been optioned for a TV mini-series. She is Dov’s writing mentor, editor and middle daughter.
Publisher: Brio Books (Booktopia)
Publication date: February 2022
If you are a bookseller, please contact Protea Distribution to order copies of Gagman. If you are a reader, please ask your local bookshop to order the book for you via Protea Distribution.
We are delighted to announce that, together with Protea Distribution, Karavan Press is the South African distribution partner for Penny Haw’s novels, Nicko and The Wilderness Between Us.
Long-time journalist and columnist, and latter-day author, PENNY HAW has written for many South African publications including Business Day, Financial Mail and Sunday Times. Her children’s book, Nicko, was first published in 2017. It was followed by her debut novel for adults, The Wilderness Between Us, which again expounds her interest in strong women and her love for animals and nature. Penny’s two works of historical fiction will be published by Sourcebooks in 2022 and 2023. She lives in Hout Bay and, when not writing, Penny can be found hiking in the mountains or to the beach with her husband and three dogs.
Based on the true story of Alice Kirk and Nicko, the baby vervet monkey who was abandoned near Alice’s farm in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, Nicko tells the remarkable tale of inter-species friendships between humans and animals, both domestic and wild.
Author Penny Haw is Alice’s granddaughter. Here, in Alice’s voice, Penny retells the story of Nicko and his antics, adventures and misadventures with his many friends, as she recalls hearing it throughout her childhood.
It is a heart-warming and humorous story about the love and playfulness of animals and their human friends, which will delight children and animal lovers of all ages.
Praise for the book
“The perfect antidote to modern life with all its stresses, Nicko is on my bookshelf next to Jock of the Bushveld. It’s that kind of a special heart-warming African animal tale. Nicko and his friends will worm their way into your heart and never leave.” Consuelo Roland, author of The Good Cemetery Guide and Lady Limbo
“Oh, what a pleasure! Full of common sense and understanding, and adorned by soft pencil drawings, which catch character and expression deliciously. A gentle delight to read in this modern world.” Jay Heale, reviewer of youth literature for Bookchat, the Children’s Book Network and Book Choice on Fine Music Radio
“A great read because it’s a book for all ages and it is written seemingly effortlessly. I found myself completely invested in the characters while glued to the edge of my seat. Nicko’s playful, mischievous personality leads him into many adventures with his hilarious friends. I greatly recommend this book to anyone.” Mia de Klerk, Grade 5, St Cyprian’s School
Publisher: PMH Publications
Publication date: 2020
Faye and her friends’ anorexic daughter Clare are thrown together when a flood separates them from their hiking group in the remote, mountainous Tsitsikamma region of South Africa. With Clare critically injured, Faye is compelled to overcome her self-doubt and fears to take care of the younger woman, who opens her heart to Faye.
As their new friendship takes the women on an unexpected journey of discovery, the rest of the group wrestles with the harrowing aftermath of their own near tragedy. When the hiking party is reunited, their number is reduced by one.
Juxtaposing physical and psychological intrigue, The Wilderness Between Us is a tale of two fragile women who unexpectedly find clarity, independence and renewed purpose as they fight to survive. It is a fast-moving story about family, friendship, adventure and the healing power of nature and compassion.
Praise for the book
“A thrilling read fraught with the tension of unravelling relationships, betrayal, broken bones and callously revealed secrets.” Tracy Going, television anchor, and author of Brutal Legacy
“Fans of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild should definitely add Haw’s book to their TBR list.” Diane Barnes, author of More Than
“I expected a tale of family, friendship and adventure, but the added layers of emotional angst and deep heart-searching of the main players took it to a whole new level.” Karen Byrom, The People’s Friend and National Federation of Occupational Pensioners Members’ Magazine, Scotland
Publisher: Köehler Books
Publication date: July 2021