Jewish Comics; or, Visualizing Current Jewish Narrative

By Royal, Derek Parker | Shofar, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Jewish Comics; or, Visualizing Current Jewish Narrative


Royal, Derek Parker, Shofar


Over the past several years, there has been rapidly growing interest in Jews and comics- not comics of the Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, and Jerry Seinfeld variety, but those as presented on the paneled pages of the newspaper funnies, comic books, and graphic novels.1 In the past four years alone, there have been no less than seven titles devoted exclusively to the history and analysis of Jews and comic art, and these books do not even include the many recent comics-related texts with substantive portions devoted to specific Jewish authors.2 Part of this interest can be read as an outgrowth, or the natural consequence, of scholarly studies in Jews and popular culture. The past decade has seen a number of significant studies that highlight the presence, and even the essential contributions, of Jews in a variety of popular media.3 Comics, the argument goes, is one of those mass outlets- along with television and Hollywood films- in which Jews could not only thrive, but also largely define according to particular ethnic themes and sensibilities. This nascent interest in Jewish comics and graphic novels can also be linked to another recent phenomenon, a broader scholarly focus on comics and the ways in which they represent ethnoracial identity.4 Many of these analyses have not only chronicled the history of racial and ethnic caricatures in American comic strips, comic books, and film animation, but they have also explored the relatively recent rise in ethnic ownership of the comic image, i.e., how traditionally marginalized writers and illustrators have become more a part of the comics industry and have thereby exerted more control over representations of their own ethnic communities.

In terms of Jewish Americans, this involvement in the industry has been in place since the comic book's inception. As comics historian Arie Kaplan points out, Maxwell "Charlie" Gaines (né Max Ginsberg) put together what many consider the first American comic book. In 1934, he, along with his friend Harry L. Wildenberg, persuaded Eastern Color Printing to collect the comic strips that had previously been published in Sunday newspapers, print them in half tabloid size and distribute them first through chain department stores, then when that proved successful, sell them on newsstands. There had been earlier attempts to collect and distribute comic strips in magazine form, but this was the first time anyone had done so on the retail level and not as a promotional giveaway.5 The result was Famous Funnies, and as critics such as Kaplan, Danny Fingeroth, and Paul Buhle have pointed out, thus began the Jewish association with comics and their shaping of the medium. Indeed, many of the early pioneers of American comics were Jews, including Jerome Siegel, Joe Shuster, Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, Gil Kane, Will Eisner, Jules Feiffer, Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, and Joe Kubert. This brief list of artists and writers created, or famously illustrated, most of the memorable characters of the 1930s and 1940s, including Superman, Batman, Captain America, the Guardian, the Boy Commandos, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men, Iron Man, the Green Lantern, the Spirit, and Sgt. Rock. And editors such as Stan Lee, Mort Weisinger, Julius Schwartz, William Gaines, AI Feldstein, and Harvey Kurtzman put their indelible stamp on most of the significant comic books coming out of the industry's leading publishers: DC Comics, Marvel, and EC Comics.

One of the reasons for this Jewish dominance in the comics industry is due in large part to the occupational opportunities, or lack thereof, in the first half of the twentieth century. As both Kaplan and Fingeroth have pointed out, most of the prominent and "respectable" fields where artists and writers could express their creativity- such as magazines, newspaper strips, and advertising-were closed to Jews at the time, or at least difficult to enter, due to antisemitism, both overt and subtle.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Jewish Comics; or, Visualizing Current Jewish Narrative
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?