Al Wiesner, of Warminster, Bucks County, author of the Shaloman comic book series, was born and raised in Philadelphia. "I went to Olney High School," he recalls, "and before that I went two years to Overbrook, because (his family) lived in that area, we lived in the West Philadelphia area. When we moved to Roosevelt Boulevard, I finished (his high school) in Olney High School. Then I took the post-graduate course in Dobbins Vocational School, for Commercial Art. That's where I got a lot of my formal art training. Then I got out and got a job with another graduate, from a couple of years before -- he was a window decorator, and I worked for his for about a year."
During his service in the Air Force, Wiesner says, "I did charts, maps graphs, and several murals in air bases. When I got out of the service, I went back to the window decorator who hired me originally, but unfortunately for me, the man he hired to replace me was still working for him. But because he liked the kind of (window decorating) work I did, he hired me back part-time."
Encouraged by his mother to find a full-time job, Wiesner enrolled in a hair-dressing school, "thinking I probably wouldn't like it," he recalls, "(but) I was surprised when, (at) graduation time, I really didn't dislike it as much as I thought I would." He found work in a beauty shop in Northeast Philadelphia, and "I (found) it compatible with my abilities." Wiesner moved from one beauty shop to the next, and "at each shop I went to, I increased my following...I found we had a couple of days off, Monday and Tuesday, so I used that time to paint murals, in houses and some stores, so I was still doing my art work."
Wiesner recalls his childhood, when he read comic books, "But there's nothing for me to relate to. They're all generic-Superman didn't come from any country, he came from another planet. He didn't have any religion or any background. I was always looking for a super hero that would have a Jewish background. The oddity was, of all of the artists who drew the comic books, eighty percent had Jewish names. But none of the comics did."
Finally, Wiesner decided to create a super hero, but, "something that has never been done...an Israeli super hero. Israel had become a country at this time, and they had shown the world, and that they didn't take any backtalk from terrorists, and they weren't frightened by somebody holding somebody hostage.
"I thought to myself," recalls Wiesner, "What's the one thing that, not only the Israelis but everybody in the world wants? Peace, everybody wants peace. The only way to get peace is to be stronger than the guy who wants to give you trouble. If you're stronger than him, he's not going to start with you. So I would make a man of peace, a 'shalom man.' I put on his shirt the (Hebrew) letter shin which is the first letter in the word 'shalom.'"
In constructing Shaloman's costume, Wiesner says, "Mostly I did things the super heroes have, tights, shirts sticking to their muscles"; but no cape, "The cape I thought was a little repetitious. There were so many other superheroes that had a cape, (and) that's one thing I didn't want to have...I figure I'm showing his muscles, and he can do anything that's required of him, to save somebody."
Wiesner wanted Shaloman to make his appearance when someone was in distress, with some Jewish meaning; "I thought, if my superhero could come on a call," recalls Weisner, "what call would it be? I thought, he's there to stop people from being in trouble, from being hurt. Jewish people, over the years, when they're in trouble, yell out, 'Oy, vey.' So I decided, when someone's in trouble, and they yell 'Oy, vey,' it travels through the air, to the top of Mount Israel, and at the top of Mount Israel is carved a stone shape of the letter shin, the first letter of Shaloman," and Shaloman would come to life.
"As I looked at the shin," recalls Wiesner, "as I designed it, the outside (arms of the letter) could be fists, and the inside piece could be a head. This could transform, through metamorphosis, into a man. Also, to appeal to people who were religious, if Shaloman was an actual man, he would have to attend services, he would have to fast on Yom Kippur, he would observe holidays, and then he couldn't help somebody who was in trouble if they yelled 'Oy, vey,' at a time he read from the Torah."
Wiesner though it would offend some religious people if God directly created Shaloman; "I decided," he says, that "I would have three old men, the three wise men..(who) would have the power to create, they would realize in the world there people are killing each other...They created somebody that would help save people who were oppressed. They would create Shaloman. How would they create him? From something ethereal, something that had nothing to do with everyday, mundane things. They took the top of the mountain, and they carved the letter shin on there, and they used nature to carve it. With lightning they would cut through the rock, and make it shaped like the letter shin, and they created Shaloman."
Of the three wise men who created Shaloman, Wiesner says, "Think of the three very good qualities people can have -- Justice, Equity, treating everyone equally, and Wisdom, having knowledge. And think of the three (initial) letters, J, E, W, and those are the three wise men who created Shaloman. I thought I had a good super hero, because from the time I was eight of nine years old, not only reading comic books but books in libraries, I had a fertile mind, and I came up with these different stories that were interesting stories in themselves, and then I found a way to weave them in."
Borrowing a little from Superman, Wiesner says, "These pieces of the mountain, when lighting struck them, they flew off in different directions, so the figure of the letter shin would be created at the top of the mountain, but these pieces of rock flew in different directions all over the world, and they would form 'Shinite,'" which would weaken Shaloman, just as Kryptonite weakened Superman.
"A superhero is great," adds Wiesner, "but if he had nothing that could possibly defeat him, and he can defeat anything in the world, there's really no suspense."
For information about Shaloman, contact:
Mark 1 Comics
PO Box 5097
Philadelphia, PA 19111-1321
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