The graph­ic nov­el Farm 54 is based on three sto­ries writ­ten by Galit Selik­tar. The sto­ries were first pub­lished in Israeli lit­er­ary mag­a­zines and then adapt­ed into a graph­ic nov­el by Galit’s broth­er, illus­tra­tor Gilad Selik­tar. Farm 54 is a real place where both sib­lings were raised, an actu­al farm in Ganei-Yohanan – a small vil­lage locat­ed in Israel’s agri­cul­tur­al periph­ery, which was found­ed by Jew­ish immi­grants from Rus­sia, Yemen and Libya in the ear­ly 1950s. All the sto­ries in Farm 54 are based on true events which took place between the mid-1970s and late 1980s. Farm 54 has been pub­lished so far in five lan­guages, and was nom­i­nat­ed for the 2009 Angoulême book award in France.

In the back­ground: Farm 54, Win­ter 1982 (L to R: Gilad Selik­tar, Moni Selik­tar, Galit Seliktar)


Galit & Gilad: This sto­ry was the first col­lab­o­ra­tion between us and the cor­ner­stone of Farm 54. It was first pub­lished in 2007 as a short graph­ic sto­ry in an Israeli lit­er­ary mag­a­zine, Mas­mer­im, and includ­ed a framed nar­ra­tive which is omit­ted in the book. In that ear­li­er ver­sion the sto­ry starts with the hero­ine vis­it­ing her brother’s grave where she relives his drown­ing in her mind.

Pan­els from the first ver­sion of The Sub­sti­tute Life­guard” in which Noga vis­its her brother’s grave:

Galit: One after­noon, when Gilad was about two years old, our fam­i­ly was bar­be­quing in the back­yard. It was a hot day and my father went to look for one of our dogs he had seen dis­ap­pear at the far end of the yard, a part cov­ered with high grass and infest­ed with snakes. On his way he passed by our blue fiber­glass wad­ing pool and heard heavy spat­ter­ing. He thought he had found the dog, but it was Gilad, fight­ing for his life in the half-meter-high chlo­ri­nat­ed water. I saw him in my father’s arms, ful­ly dressed in his tod­dler clothes and wet to the bone. Both of them were qui­et. The silence broke when my moth­er start­ed scream­ing. Only then did we stop eating.

Gilad: The Sub­sti­tute Life­guard” was the first time I had ever read any of Galit’s sto­ries. I have only a vague rec­ol­lec­tion of the event itself, but her visu­al writ­ing style took me back to the pool on some deep emo­tion­al lev­el. I was aware of my sister’s many years of engage­ment with visu­al media such as pho­tog­ra­phy and video, but only when read­ing about myself in that pool did I real­ize that her writ­ing was also extreme­ly visu­al and that the cin­e­mat­ic qual­i­ty of her texts, along with the themes and set­tings that were also my own, could form the basis of a pow­er­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion. The first pub­lished ver­sion of The Sub­sti­tute Life­guard” was very short. The com­pact for­mat relied on the ceme­tery frame to cre­ate an imme­di­ate dra­mat­ic impact. In book form, the actu­al sto­ry could grad­u­al­ly unfold with­out this scaf­fold­ing, a device meant to gen­er­ate sen­ti­ments that are yet to be sus­tained by the plot. As I was adapt­ing and then re-adapt­ing the text into graph­ic form, I found myself drawn to the cin­e­mat­ic for­mat of a three-pan­el page that now shapes the entire book, per­haps owing to the way the prose was laid out on paper.

Galit: Of course I had to kill Gilad when I wrote this sto­ry. I also chose to trans­fer the dra­ma from the actu­al wad­ing pool to a manure pit that my father trans­formed into a swim­ming pool. It was part of a cow­shed that my par­ents inher­it­ed from the for­mer own­er of the farm, togeth­er with a young calf. My father immi­grat­ed to Israel with his par­ents from Sofia, Bul­gar­ia, in 1949, and grew up in Jaf­fa, where he met my moth­er. This urban boy knew noth­ing about farm­ing and nei­ther did she. On their first year as farm­ers my father had a severe aller­gic reac­tion to egg­plant blos­som which ter­mi­nat­ed his agri­cul­tur­al dreams. The calf froze to death in 1973; the same year my father was enlist­ed to take part in the war that broke out on Israel’s south­ern bor­der. All the chicks that I used to play with (I was almost three years old at the time), per­ished from thirst after my moth­er had left the farm dur­ing the war to stay with her par­ents back in the city. Long after we stopped using the manure pit as a pool, our dogs used to sneak in through the ruined fence that sur­round­ed it and, every so often, one of them would be found drowned in the rain water that half-filled the pool.

The manure pit which turned into a swim­ming pool and where the dra­ma of The Sub­sti­tute Life­guard” hap­pens, and the old cowshed.

Gilad: Galit’s text of The Sub­sti­tute Life­guard” was extreme­ly poet­ic and sat­u­rat­ed with elab­o­rate descrip­tions. Find­ing my own voice in this dense sto­ry meant most­ly con­dens­ing and edit­ing out. While I did not change any of Galit’s words that made it into Farm 54, I did trans­late” almost all of the nar­ra­tive and descrip­tions into a graph­i­cal lan­guage, which obeys very dif­fer­ent con­ven­tions, through my own visu­al per­spec­tive. Yet all my draw­ings fol­low close­ly the orig­i­nal text in terms of plot, descrip­tion, atmos­phere and dia­logue. The fact that Galit is my sis­ter was very lib­er­at­ing artis­ti­cal­ly as I wasn’t afraid to explore avenues that I might have hes­i­tat­ed to approach had I been work­ing with some­one whose text I’d have to adapt whilst walk­ing on eggs”.

Galit and Gilad Selik­tars graph­ic nov­el, Farm 54is now avail­able. They will be blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings author blog­ging series.