Marvel made a comic of a Syrian family. It tells a story you won't see on the news.

Since July 2015, the Syrian mountain town of Madaya has been under siege by their own government.

40,000 people live there, and the government (mostly) allows people to move freely within the town limits. But with a few exceptions for emergency aid, no one has been allowed in or out of the mountainside town for more than a year, effectively turning the former resort town into an open-air prison.

Government officials have consistently denied travel visas to visitors, too, which means no one knows exactly what's going on within city limits — except that dozens of people have already starved to death and that it's all in retaliation for a few rebels in the town who opposed the brutal actions of the Assad regime.


The blockade leading into the city. Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images.

ABC News producer Rym Momtaz became obsessed with the city of Madaya early on.

She spent weeks working through her wide network of contacts (built up over years of war correspondence) to try to get news from the inside. Finally, she made contact with a mother of five who was trapped in Madaya.

At first, the woman feared for her life; she had a family to provide for, after all, and the Syrian government was not forgiving. But Momtaz gained the woman's trust over time, and the two began to communicate every day via encrypted text messages.

A family rushes to greet the aid trucks that arrived in January 2016. Photo by Stringer/AFP/Getty Images.

Momtaz started translating "Madaya Mom's" encrypted texts into English, chronicling the strife in an ongoing blog.

The woman, whose identity was kept secret to protect her and her family, shared the details of her life under siege — the furniture they burned for warmth; the bombs that rocked their schools and home; the scraps of food they struggled to keep down and sickness they endured from starvation; intimate details of her children's lives and passions; and all the other struggles of life during wartime.

The blog was shocking. It was heartfelt. It was real. But Momtaz worried that not even those bursts of words could do justice to the horrifying situation.

Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images.

Eventually, ABC teamed up with Marvel Entertainment to render the story of Madaya Mom in a way that people could actually see.

“[The Mother] agreed to speak with ABC because she wanted her story — and the story of her neighbors — to be known," explained ABC News digital executive producer Dan Silver. "However, with no visuals coming out of Madaya, our team spent a considerable amount of time imagining the ways we could illustrate her powerful journey."

Marvel tapped artist Dalibor Talajíc to bring Madaya Mom's words to life. Talajíc, who has previously illustrated "X-Men" and "Avengers," had his own experiences with armed conflicts in his native Yugoslavia and his current home country of Croatia.

"What I could relate to is this civilian point of view during the war because somebody else is fighting, and regardless of your actions, bombs are falling around, snipers are shooting around, and you just survive," he said in an interview with NPR.

Using Madaya Mom's own words, Talajíc turned the story into a stunning visual narrative.

He recreated the ruin and claustrophobia of life in wartime Syria in a stunning way.

“[Madaya Mom] is a huge fan of Spider-Man, and she could not believe that the people behind Spider-Man, Marvel, knew that she existed, knew her story and were interested in giving her story the same treatment they gave Spider-Man," Momtaz said in an interview with Fusion. "The only difference being Spider-Man is fiction and her story is unfortunately is … very real."

Check out the first few pages of the story below:

Images by Dalibor Talajic/ABC News/Marvel Entertainment, used with permission.

"January 19, 2016. Today our one meal was rice and bean soup. Our bodies are no longer used to eating. My children are hungry but are getting sick, severe stomach pains from the food because their bodies aren't able to digest and absorb the food because they were hungry for so long."

"When we wake up, we drink mint or thyme tea from the garden, with a little bit of sugar. It keeps the children from being hungry for a while."

The story of Madaya Mom is available for free online, and it's also an exclusive print comic. But the real-life Madaya Mom is still trapped under siege.

Right now, Madaya Mom's graphic narrative is the only way for the world to hear her story — though hopefully someday we will hear her voice directly from her mouth, too. Another aid convoy entered the city at the end of September, but the future is still unwritten for her and many like her.

For now, all we can do is share her harrowing story.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via Hennepin County Sheriff

The verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minnesota police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, has many breathing a sigh of relief. Even though the disturbing video evidence of Floyd dying under Chauvin's knee is impossible to refute, it's incredibly hard to convict an officer of murder.

The United States judicial system is so preferential to law enforcement that even though the world saw murder in broad daylight, many were skeptical of whether he'd be convicted.

"Most people, I think, believe that it's a slam dunk," David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert in policing, told the Washington Post before the trial. "But he said, "the reality of the law and the legal system is, it's just not."

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.