Jewish Comix Anthology golem 2

Why Do The Jews Need a Comix Anthology?

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Welcome to With Great Chutzpah Comes Great Responsibility.

Every two weeks, this column explores the intersection of Judaism and comic books. In essence, this column was never just about Judaism; it has always been about the importance of knowing and respecting your heritage, no matter your background. I celebrate Judaism because that is my heritage, and that is why I am so excited about the new Kickstarter campaign for The Jewish Comix Anthology: Volume 1 . It is all about celebrating what makes me, me.

Let me give you the low down:

Jewish Comix Anthology logo

The Jewish Comix Anthology:Volume 1 is a collection of stories from some of the greatest writers and artists from around the world. I cannot believe the names attached to this project- Robert Crumb, Will Eisner, Michael Netzer, Terry LaBan, Trina Robbins, Joe Kubert, (Pulitzer Prize winner) Art Spiegelman and a friend of mine, Steve Sheinkin. Initiate geek-out mode. It will even feature Crumb’s version of the Golem, ooh yeah, baby! With forty-seven top creators telling classic Jewish tales, this is going to be awesome. Many of the tales will be previously published stories from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Vertigo and Drawn & Quarterly, but the anthology will also feature twenty-seven brand-spanking-new stories.

Published by Alternate History Comics Inc. (AH Comics), the book will be released as a 252 page, 8″ x 10″ hardcover. It is set to drop in June. You can get more info at their Kickstarter page by clicking here (they also have sweet bonus goodies available).

I was lucky enough to get to chat recently with the editor of the anthology, Steven M. Bergson, MLIS via e-mail. Steven is a research administrator at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, past president of the Association of Jewish Libraries (Ontario Chapter) and an expert on the representation of Jews throughout comics and graphic novels. It was my pleasure to speak with him:

UTF: Why do the Jews need a comic anthology?

Jewish Comix Anthology perfect wife

Artwork from the story “The Perfect Wife,” illustrated by Josh Edelglass

Andy Stanleigh (the publisher) and I feel that this is an anthology for Gentile and Jews alike. As for the Jews who might appreciate such a book, I see 3 possible audiences : (1) Jews who have enjoyed Jewish stories and songs, but who may not be comic readers ; (2) Jews who are comic readers, but who are not familiar with Jewish stories and songs ; (3) Jews who appreciate both Jewish stories and songs, as well as comics.

For all 3 groups, The Jewish Comix Anthology brings together comics created by the best cartoonists – past & present – which adapt Jewish stories and songs in a way that no anthology has done before. For those who might not otherwise pick up a comic book or graphic novel, the anthology can be an entry point into the world of comix. For those fanboys & fangirls who already love comics, the anthology can be an entry point into the world of Jewish stories.

UTF: What inspired you to create the anthology?

I have had different inspirations in different ways since I was age 5 and read my very first anthology of comic stories (Shazam! #15). The most significant inspiration, though, was probably Diana Mock’s minicomic The Bleeding Tree. Unfortunately, it isn’t being reprinted in the Anthology, but the story is going to be adapted by another artist.

After I read the minicomic, I thought to myself, “It’s too bad that this comic story has such a limited readership. Unfortunately, the only effective way to get it published in print and properly distributed and sold would be to include it in an anthology. But, noone’s going to publish a comix anthology of Jewish stories.” Then I recalled that I’d seen other short adaptations of Jewish stories and challenged myself to see how big a list I could produce. By the time I started working with Andy, I had almost 100 pages of material that could be reprinted.

I also realized that there might be a willingness on the part of contemporary cartoonists (especially the Jewish ones) to adapt Jewish stories in the comix format  for publication if only someone would be willing to pay them for it. At the time, I had no money to pay for anyone’s stories, but I’d managed to network with dozens of cartoonists via e-mail, LinkedIn, MySpace and Facebook. There were so many interested artists that Andy and I had to say “no” to several of them for volume 1, while assuring them that we will consider their participation for inclusion in volume 2 (if volume 1 is successful enough).

Jewish Comix Anthology The-Chaste-Maid

Artwork from the story “The Chaste Maid,” illustrated by Katherine Piro

UTF: What Yiddish word or saying best describes your project?

Hmmm. Well,  I like to think that stories are the lifeblood of all librarians (and I, myself, am a librarian). The artwork being produced for the anthology is what keeps the artists alive. I, therefore, choose the word “mechayih”.  [Editor’s note: Mechayih stems from the word chai which means life.  Mechayih means to bring back of give life]

UTF: What types of tales will we see in this project?

Rather than focus on one specific genre or style, we chose to try to have variety. There are supernatural tales (which may seem odd since Jews are not supposed to believe in the supernatural), wisdom tales, humorous tales of foolish people, adaptations of songs, stories of trying to prevail against impossible odds.

UTF: Why will this appeal to individuals outside of the Jewish community?

It was once thought that stories about a specific ethnic or religious group would be too particular for a general audience to understand or enjoy. We hope to show that this is not necessarily the case. The main characters in the stories are Jews (whether or not they are identified as such), but the stories being told and the values being shown are universal and can appeal to everyone.

Aside from the stories themselves, the book will appeal to comic fans, since it includes the work of old masters and up-&-coming cartoonist stars, such as Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, Sharon Rudahl, Josh Neufeld, Miriam Libicki, and Michael Netzer.

UTF: How does the anthology have chutzpah?

I think chutzpah may be found in the stories themselves. There are at least 3 stories which feature a rabbi who is shown to be fallible. It may be seen as chutzpah to portray any rabbi as being imperfect, even though we recognize – deep down – that rabbis are as human as anyone else. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the purpose of the stories is not to ridicule the rabbis or to suggest that Jews shouldn’t follow rabbinical advice. In each of these stories, it’s important to pay attention to how each rabbi deals with his mistakes, which we all can learn from whether or not we are rabbis (and even if we’re not Jewish).

Jewish Comix Anthology golem

Artwork from the story “Workin’ Girl Golem,” Copyright 2008 illustrated by Joe Infurnari

UTF: We have seen examples of the secular hero in mainstream comics.  These characters are “Jewish” in title, but their Judaism will only be acknowledged either as an ethnicity or as a rare reference to Chanukah every few years.  Is there room for a more traditionally “Jewish” hero in mainstream comics?

I suppose that depends how one defines “mainstream” and “comics”. The Hereville series of graphic novels (2 books published, another on the way) already has a “Jewish hero” named Mirka who is an Orthodox 11-year old girl.

If Top Cow qualifies as mainstream, its series Coffee Grounds featured the Orthodox superhero Acidic Jew in its 3rd issue. Alas, the series ended after the 6th issue and the character only appeared once.

I think it’s possible to have a “traditionally Jewish” hero in mainstream comics as long as the writer doesn’t focus in too much on the non-Jewish aspects of the character’s life or too much on the Jewish aspects of his/her life. I think a proper balance will allow a religious character (Jewish on non-Jewish) to attract the type of  audience that allows him (or her) to be in demand.

UTF: Have comics influenced your spirituality?  If so, do you hope your project will influence your reader’s spirituality as well?

I think that anything I see, hear, read, or do that makes me think about morality or G-d has an influence on my spirituality and that would include stories that I’ve read in comics. One of the classic Jewish graphic novels (perhaps the first one) is Eisner’s A Contract with God and its title story dealt with loss of faith after a personal tragedy. Like other readers, I wasn’t even aware that Eisner had lost his daughter due to illness until the Contract with God trilogy was published.

I hope that readers of the anthology will come to question the morality of their decisions and will see that making tough choices can have a profound payoff – for themselves and others. My Zeyde, which is being adapted for the anthology, is a song about the responsibility we have towards the next generation – even for those of us who have no children of our own. What type of values do we want to project and what sort of legacy do we want to leave behind? I’d like to think that this anthology is just a tiny part of my legacy which will outlive me.

Jewish Comix Anthology coverUTF: Rapid fire- I’m going to give you a list of words; tell me the comic book moral or character you immediately think of:

Purim…

Queen Esther tries to hide who she is to protect her people. So, basically any superheroine with a family. Let’s go with Kitty Pryde aka Shadowcat.

UTF: Tefillin …

Northguard (Canadian superhero who put on tefillin in a weird dream sequence) see http://www.flickr.com/photos/34065667@N00/9726432020/

UTF: Gefilte fish…

Hmmm …. well … gefilte fish is a mixture made up of 3 different types of fish. The combined taste is better than each of the fishes alone. So, the closest comic book character that comes to my mind is … The Over-Mind, made up of the minds of six telepaths.

UTF: How did you get so many incredible artists and writers to work on this project?

Ummm … I just asked them. Then they said yes.

Well, I also have to give credit to Andy for effectively negotiating contracts which they were willing to sign.

Be sure to support this campaign.  Check out their Facebook page here.  Hit up their Kickstarter page by clicking here and get your own copy of the book.  Also, there are some great goodies like original artwork, postcards and a sweet Golem t-shirt.  For the project to be funded they need at least $50,000 to be pledged by Wed, Mar 5 2014 at 9:01 AM EST.  There is less than two weeks left, so go show your support!

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Jay Deitcher, LMSW(@mrdeitcher) is an educator on comic history and runs successful Free Comic Book Day events yearly.  You can see a listing of his incredible articles at JayDeitcher.com.

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