Just a few years back, the Syrian town of Madaya was a holiday resort. Well-heeled Syrians and Lebanese built mansions in the lush, green mountain town known for its natural spring water.
Today, much of it is rubble.
Images smuggled out of the rebel-held town last January showed feeble, malnourished residents. Some 23 townspeople reportedly starved to death. Many were eating boiled grass and stray pets.
Journalists from around the world have sought visas from Damascus, trying to report from the town since the siege began in July 2015. But Syria's government has consistently denied the media entry.
So Rym Momtaz, a producer for ABC News, tried a different tactic. She was able to connect with a Madaya mother of five, with whom she began an extended text conversation in Arabic.
"She would text me from the moment she woke up, which was very, very, early, like 5 a.m., and then she would text me truly throughout the day," Momtaz says. "One day she told me, 'You know, it's funny, I speak to you like I speak to my best friend, it's like you're my confidante.'"
The Madaya mother began sending daily accounts of her life to Momtaz, describing what it was like to parent five children in the middle of the war. The regular updates were riveting. So, ABC News teamed up with Marvel Comics to illustrate the family's story. The result is the digital comic collection, "Madaya Mom," which even has a teacher's guide. It describes the lives of kids who experience daily trauma. A bomb explodes at their school and takes the lives of their classmates and injures their teacher. Through it all, their mother is there to provide support.
"She spent hours trying to comfort them, but was really at a loss as to how she was supposed to do that, because, it's not like she could tell them, 'Don't worry this is going to stop. We know when the war is going to end,'" Momtaz recalls. "She's trying to be the mother that every child in that position needs at that moment, while at the same time feeling extremely helpless."
Courtesy Marvel Comics
Madaya is under siege by Syrian government forces and their allies in Lebanon's Shiite Islamist Hezbollah. But somehow families like the Madaya mom's endure. Momtaz thinks the town's parents, at least the one whom she has come to know, are exemplary.
"When we first started thinking about doing this projec,t I told her that Marvel was interested in doing this, and she couldn't believe that the people behind 'Spiderman' knew who she was, were interested in her story," Momtaz says. "Marvel comics are all built around heroes and superheroes, and in a way she is. She's an extraordinary person."
Courtesy Marvel Comics