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.

More
Photo by Raul Varzar on Unsplash

A quarter of domestic cats have had their claws removed. Even though it might make the owners lives a little easier, the procedure can be incredibly painful for the animals and has been described as "barbaric."

Most of Europe and Canada have banned cat declawing (onychectomy), as well as several U.S. cities, but New York just became the first state to do so. Now, any vet who declaws a cat in the there will face a fine of $1,000, unless the procedure is medically necessary.

"Declawing is a cruel and painful procedure that can create physical and behavioral problems for helpless animals, and today it stops," New York GovernorAndrew Cuomo saidin a statement, per USA Today.

Some people get their cat declawed to stop their furniture and flesh from being destroyed. However, declawing a cat isn't the best way to stop a cat from scratching. In fact, it's probably the worst. "If a person has an issue with a cat scratching, well, first of all, I'd advise them don't get a cat because that is the very nature of a cat. But, secondly, there are ways to change cats' behavior. Get scratching posts. There are vinyl sheathes that could be placed on the nails," Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal said. Rosenthal sponsored the bill and is a cat owner, herself. "[T]here's many ways to address that behavior." None of the ways you address the problem should include taking it's claws off.

Keep Reading Show less
Cities

In today's installment of the perils of being a woman, a 21-year-old woman shared her experience being "slut-shamed" by her nurse practitioner during a visit to urgent care for an STD check.

The woman recently had sex with someone she had only just met, and it was her first time hooking up with someone she had not "developed deep connections with."

Keep Reading Show less
Well Being
Sony Pictures Entertainment/YouTube


A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD - Official Trailer (HD) www.youtube.com

As a child, I spent countless hours with Mister Rogers. I sang along as he put on his cardigan and sneakers, watched him feed his fish, and followed his trolley into the Land of Make Believe. His show was a like a calm respite from the craziness of the world, a beautiful place where kindness always ruled. Even now, thinking about the gentle, genuine way he spoke to me as a child is enough to wash away the angst of my adult heart.

Fred Rogers was goodness personified. He dedicated his life not just to the education of children, but to their emotional well-being. His show didn't teach us letters and figures—he taught about love and feelings. He showed us what community looks like, what accepting and including different people looks like, and what kindness and compassion look like. He saw everyone he met as a new friend, and when he looked into the camera and said, "Hello, neighbor," he was sincerely speaking to every person watching.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture