The World According to Hagai

The comics internet can be an ugly, negative place. Today, we look at someone who does what he can to make it a bit better (and maybe weirder).

As much as it once was a utopian concept, a place of limitless potential and previously unimaginable access to information, the Internet has become something that’s often depressing and, even worse, personally destructive to its denizens. That’s at least in part due to the state of the world today, but the discourse on sites like Twitter and Facebook can often be toxic for all involved. It’s made something that was once magical exhausting, and that feeling is only exacerbated if you’re a woman or person of color, in which case it can become something far grimmer.

That’s not to say that negativity isn’t understandable at times. The world isn’t all roses and puppies, and believing otherwise is to deliberately bury your head in the sand. But sometimes it can get oppressive, especially when the conversation is about something that people presumably enjoy, like comics. When you can’t have a conversation about superheroes or related media online without someone ripping on your taste, subtweeting you or screaming “#ReleaseTheSnyderCut” in your mentions for some unknown reason, it can subtract from your own desire to engage with your passions in such a way.

And that’s a tough place to be. Whenever there’s something you love, you naturally want to talk about it. Anything that works against that could drive a person away from a medium that can hardly afford to lose any fans, whether they’re long-time readers or newfound ones. I once hoped that the Internet would act as an extension of the positive conversations I’ve had in comic shops that have fueled my love of the medium. Instead, it often manifests as the worst attributes from that world: the elitism, the gatekeeping, the unwelcoming feel.

But, thankfully, that’s not everyone. As much as the tenor of the conversation can glom onto the bad instead of the good, there are some comic fans that don’t just like the medium, but do what they can to spread their love for it to whomever will listen. That’s not to say that they’re willfully ignorant of the troubles the medium and its industry face, but they don’t forget to tout the good despite that. I always appreciate those people and their efforts do make a difference.

And this week, I wanted to highlight one of my favorites, even though, ironically, I didn’t even follow this person on Twitter until recently. I became familiar with his presence in a singularly bizarre way, but since then, I’ve come to enjoy seeing his tweets about Space Cabbie, father figures, and whatever his latest comic infatuation happens to be pop up into my feed at random. They’re a unique treat from an atypical person from an unexpected place.

His name is Hagai Palevsky, and today, we’re going to be looking at how a teenager from a city you’ve probably never heard of in Israel became one of the true voices of good on the comics Internet.

A few years ago, I clicked on a tweet from cartoonist Chip Zdarsky only to be quickly distracted away from engaging with it by someone calling Zdarsky “daddy” in his mentions. I instantly became the real life equivalent of the confused math lady meme, 1 as I pondered what this could possibly mean. “Is…is Chip actually his dad?” was briefly considered before being mercifully excised from contention. “Maybe it’s some sort of sexy thing I don’t get?” gained some traction, but I moved on from it. Then, in true David fashion, I decided to do approximately 30 seconds of research to figure out what was going on. This wasn’t the first time this person had called Chip “daddy.” Not by any means. It became apparent to me that this wasn’t something that was actually weird – well, it was a little weird – but a bit, and one that became amusing to me upon this realization.

And that was the first time I experienced Hagai Palevsky’s unique brand of Twitter engagement, 2 but my god, it wouldn’t be the last time.

One look into the “daddy” of it all

Of course, Palevsky is more than his gag-based parentage. He started to show up in my feed more often as time passed, with people whose work and opinions I respect expressing camaraderie with him and his endless stream of positive comic takes. Palevsky was clearly someone who loved the medium and wanted others to see it the way he did, even if he didn’t ignore the foibles and follies comics would often succumb to. The fact that he was both rather youthful and from what could hardly be described as a hotspot in the comic book world made him an even more interesting character.

Palevsky is an 18-year-old from Hod HaSharon, Israel, which he described as “one of those towns that nobody outside of Israel has heard of because it’s not Tel Aviv or Jerusalem,” and it’s certainly not somewhere that’s known as a comic book metropolis. But Palevsky became a big fan of the medium no less. It all started with a Hebrew translation of Jeff Smith’s Bone he read when he was in fourth grade, but what really escalated his interest in comics was when he copied a friend’s birthday present idea – he had been given a couple Star Wars comics by this friend as a gift in 2011 – and bought that pal some comics from the New 52 that featured the hero from Palevsky’s then favorite superhero movie, Green Lantern. 3

The cover to These Savage Shores #2, art by Sumit Kumar

From there, he fell in love with the medium, with Comikaza – a comic shop in nearby Tel Aviv – serving as his home base for future, more often than not non-Green Lantern related comic purchases. Due to the shop’s placement in a different city altogether, Palevsky only visits about once a month, but when he’s there, he runs pretty deep. His favorites range from single issue titles like These Savage Shores, Test and Sera and the Royal Stars – all of which are published by his current favorite publisher, Vault Comics – to graphic novels like Emil Ferris’ My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Jillian Tamaki’s Boundless, and whatever Tillie Walden has been working on. So he’s someone who doesn’t just read a lot, but also explores a wide variety of releases.

He’s such an advocate for comics and an established part of the burgeoning Israeli comics scene that if Palevsky visits Comikaza while it’s busy, the shop’s co-owner Jacob Sareli shared that he “can count on him to help people to find things in the store as (he is) certain (Palevsky) knows (the shop’s) shelving almost perfectly.” And this all stems from his passion for the medium, a love that developed for two key reasons.

The first is the greatness of the storytelling in the medium, as he told me he believes “comics have never been better, content-wise,” and that excellence spins out of what the art form is capable in his mind.

“Part of it is the feeling of ‘everything is possible.’” Palevsky told me. “You have no budget limiting how wild and how creative you can be.”

Sometimes this results in the types of comics listed above, and other times it leads to character curiosities that double as ones that perfectly match the Hagai Palevsky™ brand. If you’ve ever taken on the Hagai experience, you quickly realize that beyond his affinity for the broader world of comics and calling comic creators “daddy,” he also has a fondness for relatively deep cut characters like Howard the Duck, Detective Chimp and, most bizarrely and notably, Space Cabbie. The former two make sense, as those characters have been notable ones in the modern era. But Space Cabbie? How the heck did an 18-year-old learn to love Space Cabbie?

The cover to Starman #55, art by Tony Harris

“To be fair, I was sixteen at the time and Cabbie just didn’t let go. I was reading Starman by Robinson, Harris, Snejbjerg, and so many other great artists, and issue #55 was a Space Cabbie story,” he said. “Now, my love for comics is hugely informed by Silver Age sensibilities, and the concept of a guy who drives a taxi through space was extremely charming to me.

“It was simple, but really, what more do you need?”

The other element that fostered his love of the medium relates to the core point of this piece, and that’s the sense of community that exists amongst those that make, read, publish and sell comics. While he obviously loves comics, the short distance between fans and creators elevates his adoration of the medium.

“I don’t know of any other creative industry with such direct interaction between fan and creator, and I love that,” Palevsky told me. “Obviously I know it can be extremely problematic and downright dangerous and ugly at times, but ultimately I find great joy in getting to talk with the creators whose art I love, and getting to talk about the impact their art had on me.”

You might not think that someone whose presence is heavily built on touting things he likes and complimenting the people who make stories he loves would make a difference in comics, but that’s where you’d be wrong. If you ever get a chance and want to better understand what the comics conversation can be like for some, search the mentions for your favorite creators and observe what the results are like. Twitter can be an ugly place, so someone like Palevsky can be a salve that reminds you – whether you’re a creator or just an ordinary fan of comics – why this medium is special to begin with.

“Hagai has been, as long as I’ve been aware of him, unusually enthusiastic on Twitter,” Crowded inker Ted Brandt told me. “It’s not just a matter of the intensity of the enthusiasm though; it’s also on a broader range of topics and creators than others I sometimes come across.

“Hell, he often feels more enthusiastic about comics than I am, which can be very refreshing and help me remember why I love the medium.”

“I mean, he’s just so positive, you know?” Zdarsky told me. “And charming and funny, which goes a long way.”

“He’s a young guy too, so it’s fun seeing someone who isn’t…how do I put this…my age, with locked in ideas about comics, making demands on Twitter,” he added. “He’s discovering books both old and new and we get to see that through his eyes, which is a treat.”

For artist Liana Kangas (She Said Destroy), Palevsky is someone who doesn’t just add to the conversation, but improves it.

“I think Hagai gives out a good scope of debate when it comes to comics, but knows that comics is a positive space,” Kangas told me. “So whether he is responding to someone or just throwing a comment out there, it always seems to be constructive and respectful, in the very least, but usually it’s warm and heartfelt or positively funny.”

Vault’s CCO and Editor-in-Chief Adrian Wassel looks at Palevsky as almost the Ferris Bueller of the comics world, as Wassel’s perspective on him reminded me of Prinicpal Rooney’s assistant Grace soliloquy about the universal nature of Bueller that ended with her calling the genius-level oft-delinquent “a righteous dude.” But hey, if the shoe fits.

“He doesn’t hang with any specific clique. Sometimes, comics feels like a high school lunch room,” Wassel said. “Among the new guard–actively trying to fight back against gatekeeping–there are too many cliques. A who’s-uncool-enough-to-sit-with-us vibe surfaces pretty regularly, and I’m not a fan.

“Hagai doesn’t fall for it. He cares so much about the stories and the creators and he’s not afraid to express it. That kind of infectious love for comics is what we need–and it’s part of what makes him stand out.”

That’s why Wassel believes Palevsky improves the comics discourse dramatically, saying, “The last thing the world needs is another dude saying why he thinks something isn’t good enough for him. Hagai combats that fervor of negativity in the very best way: He talks about what he loves.”

“He engages critically, as a keen reader, and celebrates stories,” Wassel added. “I’m an editor with my ear pressed firmly to the ground, and my fingers on the pulse, or so I like to believe, and I’ve found a number of cool series to follow through Hagai’s promotion.”

These are all essential parts of the Hagai Palevsky Twitter experience, but it’s worth noting that it’s not roses all the time. Palevsky himself admits that maintaining this perspective can be challenging for him. As someone who doesn’t believe in separating art from the artist, his online experience has cost him creators whose work he previously appreciated thanks to the way they behaved – although he was quick to note that most creators he engages with are the “sweetest, kindest people” – and beyond that, his positivity can be taxing because it isn’t always his first choice. It’s a conscious decision for him to behave that way online, “derived from general personal attempts to be less acerbic and toxic” than he was just a few years back.

“You might know me as ‘that guy on Twitter who just really loves comics,’ but a lot of people in the Israeli comics community on Facebook remember me as that condescending asshole kid who used to correct people’s grammar, which is precisely the personal image I’ve been trying to move away from,” Palevsky told me. “But my ‘positivity’ is also definitely a result of an avalanche of bad things and general unhappiness not only on a global scale but also in my own personal life.”

“I got to a point where I was looking around me and saw how disheartening and discouraging a lot of things are, and felt that to some degree I had to maintain that positivity for my own sake,” he added. “Obviously it doesn’t mean I don’t tend to be disgruntled and sarcastic and pessimistic—to some degree that is my irreparable nature—but I try very hard to take whatever comfort I can in whatever remains good, like a chimp who is also a detective, or a taxi driver in space.”

From the cover of Detective Chimp #1, art by Brian Bolland

He’s not someone who is unaware or even unresponsive to the injustices in our world, whether you’re talking comic books or beyond. But in the face of all of that, he chooses to bring a little light in a conversation that gravitates towards the dark. While he admits he’s “a very, very different person in real life,” he calls his Twitter persona “who I’d like to be in real life” and something that is reflective of his genuine affection for comics. And you know what? I respect the hell out of that. We could use more people who look at the world and choose to add something good to it instead of endlessly taking away from it and the happiness of strangers.

But wait…we can’t talk about Palevsky and not address the “daddy” in the room. I love positivity and touting comics and everything, but where did the whole “daddy” bit with Zdarsky I mentioned earlier on come from?

“Honestly, this is just an example of me being extremely weird online and turning out to be in some way successful at it,” Palevsky told me. “Zdarsky made some joke about calling strangers ‘daddy’ online, and, me being the weirdo that I am, I naturally had to do that exact thing. I made that joke a couple of times, and just when it was on its way to being retired Chip came to Israel and, to my great surprise, called me his beautiful son, even signing my Sex Criminals book ‘Hagai! Make me proud. Love, Daddy!’

“At this point I figured, ‘Well, I guess this joke works,’ meaning I have to keep it going for as long as I walk this wretched Earth, which brings us to this present point in time, at which I have roughly a thousand Internet daddies.” 4

Zdarsky finds the whole thing amusing, sharing that his online personality does tend to ask for that kind of, “uh, engagement.” He figured out it was a gag early on.

“I knew pretty soon that him calling me ‘daddy’ was a bit and I kind of informally adopted him as my online ‘son.’ When we finally met in Israel at a signing he was wonderful and any doubt I had about the joke of it all was cleared up immediately,” Zdarsky told me.

“I will say though, I’ve noticed he’s called a few other creators ‘daddy’ and I’m quite angry about it all. I mean, how dare he?”

My day job is as a social media professional at an advertising agency, and a common refrain from me is that the inherent idea of social media is magical when you think of it. Sure, Twitter does zero to police its bad actors, Facebook has effectively turned humanity into a commodity and Instagram is a one way road to feeling bad about yourself, but the base idea these platforms offer – building connections that were once unthinkable – is genuinely astonishing. They are true wonders, at least in theory.

The problem, unfortunately, tends to be who uses them, and the behavior of social media denizens often acts as perpetual proof to the theory that one negative comment can override a slew of positive ones.

But the positive ones still matter, and perhaps do not get as much shine as they deserve. It’s so easy to focus on the negative when it feels omnipresent in a way it maybe never has before. That’s a big part of the reason I wanted to write about Palevsky, someone who doesn’t just love comics, but has an honest view of how they can improve without needing to harass any marginalized creators or cut the heads off of any action figures to get his point across.

And in some ways, his presence gives me hope about the very real plusses of social media. I mean, think about what this piece has been all about. It has been a celebration of the perspective of an Israeli comic fan that included insight from a cartoonist from Toronto, an inker from the United Kingdom, an editor from Missoula, Montana, and an artist from Memphis. Isn’t that the wonder of social media manifested in reality?

If I’m being honest, Palevsky – and even some of the people I approached for perspective on this piece – thought it was a little strange that I wanted to write an article about him. And I totally get that. If someone reached out to me and was like, “Hey, I’m going to write an article about you,” there’s very little chance I wouldn’t be at least somewhat weirded out by that. But in 2019, in a time where it can often feel like everything is bad and the conversation can sometimes make it even worse, who is more worth celebrating than the person who looks at all of that and says, “I’m going to do what I can to make this world a little better.”

We could all use a few more people like Hagai Palevsky in our lives, even if it would result in a whole lot more of us being called “daddy” in the process.

Thanks to Brandt, Kangas, Sareli, Wassel, Zdarsky and especially Palevsky for chatting with me for this piece. If you’d be interested in following Hagai on Twitter, you can at @DialHforHagai. But beware, as you may be adopted into his daddy collective!

  1. Who, fun fact, is not actually Julia Roberts!

  2. Which you can find on Palevsky’s Twitter, which is @DialHforHagai.

  3. Palevsky assured me his youthful self had far different taste than he does now.

  4. Full disclosure: At this point, Palevsky offered me a position in his daddy collective. The offer is pending.