The ComicsAlliance Chanukah Gift List: 8 Nights of Jewish Comics
Happy Chanukah, everybody! Even though we’ve just crossed the halfway point of the Jewish festival of lights, it’s not too late to buy some gifts for some of your chosen friends. Luckily, the world of comics has provided us with a whole range of books with Judaic appeal. And if you need help making some picks, your friends at ComicsAlliance are here to help. We’ve done the research for you and selected some of the best in “Semitiquential Art”. Read on for eight nights worth of Jewish comics goodness in our first-ever Chanukah Gift List.
One of the founders of the Center for Cartoon Studies, James Sturm is a true master of the comics medium, and he has proved it yet again with his most recent work. Market Day is the deeply affecting tale of Mendleman, a devoted craftsman whose livelihood is thrown into question by economic forces beyond his control. While his illustrations will transport the you into a perfect snapshot of Eastern European life in the early 20th century, the thematic substance of the book is resonates pretty deeply with the unstable financial realities of today’s world. I can’t recommend this enough.
I find that whenever people talk about Will Eisner, it’s pretty likely that they tend to talk about A Contract With God or his work on The Spirit, so I decided that it might be nice to recommend something else from his library. The first thing that comes to mind is generally Minor Miracles. It’s a short collection of stories set against the backdrop of the New York City of his childhood, and as you may have guessed, they’re all about little miracles. The stories are all influenced by Eisner’s strong cultural connection to his Jewish heritage and drawn from the “Bubbe Meises” (Yiddish for “Grandmother’s Stories,” a form of Jewish folklore) that his mother used to tell them. The subject matter of the book is also uniquely suited to Chanukah, which is a holiday that’s all about the celebration of miracles.
The premise of Hereville is something I truly never expected to see and it’s simply fantastic. It’s the story of an eleven-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl who wants to fight dragons. I can’t really imagine what else I would need to say beyond that, but it’s also a pretty heartwarming blend fantasy with the real-life dynamics of a religious Jewish family. It’s also a great learning tool for anyone who might be interest in picking up some Yiddish slang.
The first full-length graphic novel by Israeli creator Rutu Modan, Exit Wounds won the Eisner Award for Best New Graphic Novel in 2008. It follows a young cab driver through Tel Aviv as he searches for his father in the aftermath of a suicide bombing. It’s a complex exploration of the many tensions in modern Israeli society, as told by a native who knows these issues all too well.
5. Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of an American Art Form, edited by Paul Buhle
Several books have come out in the past few years analyzing the role of Jews in the development of comics in America, but this is my favorite one. Paul Buhle’s expertise as a scholar of popular culture brings this volume to life, tracing the intersection of Jews and comics from early strips in Yiddish newspapers through to the works of contemporary creators, some of whom are also found in this list. Too often the conversation gets stuck around Jews and superheroes, but it goes so much deeper than that. Pick this up and get the full story.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when R. Crumb announced his plans to adapt the first book of the Hebrew Bible into comics form, but I was far from disappointed. It’s a completely honest take on a very complex text, drawing from the translations of Biblical scholar Robert Alter and the King James Bible. While Crumb presents it as a “literal interpretation,” his role of illustrator as interpreter works really well within the context of the work. What I love most about this book are Crumb’s artistic decisions regarding the facial expressions and body language of the Biblical characters, which is something that isn’t really communicated by the laconic source material.
There’s room on this list for more than one Biblical comic, and the unconventional Comic Torah provides a nice counterpoint to Crumb’s literal approach. Created by the Chicago-based husband and wife team of comedian Aaron Freeman and artist Sharon Rosenzweig, this book emerged from the couple’s online project in which they created weekly comics corresponding the sections of the Torah that Jews chant aloud in synagogue each week. It’s snarky, strange and hilarious as all get-out, and while it might be irreverent, it still reflects the creators’ genuine love and honest engagement with the text. Also, there’s at least one page where God is represented by something that looks a whole lot like Neh-buh-loh from Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers.
I don’t see why you can’t use Chanukah gift-giving as an opportunity to get your Jewish friends excited for Jewish celebrations yet to come, which is why I’m putting Megillat Esther into the mix. JT Waldman poured years of work and study into his adaptation of the Biblical Book of Esther, the story of which is celebrated on the holiday of Purim. Waldman blended the original Hebrew text with English translation, and seamlessly integrates classical rabbinic interpretations into his faithful retelling of this ancient tale of political intrigue. My favorite part: Exactly halfway into your read, you’re forced to rotate the book 180 degrees and turn the pages from right to left for the second half of the story. It’s an intentional move to disorient and represents the reversals of fortune within the Book of Esther, as well as the “everything is upside down” attitude inherent in the celebration of Purim.
There are some great books on this list, but it goes without saying that they’re not the only ones. What great Jewish comics would you add to the Chanukah gift list?