Exclusive Interview With Jewish Social Activist/Geek MaNishtana

Welcome to With Great Chutzpah Comes Great Responsibilityyour every other week dose of Jews and comics.

MaNishtana is one of my favorite social activists on the web.  So often, American Jewry is seen only through the lens of Ashkenazi heritage, but MaNishtana is dedicated to promoting awareness of the diversity within Jewish communities and advocacy for Jews
manishtana profile of Color (AKA “JOC”). His writing is witty, brave and extremely important. I was so excited to find out that this cat is an all-out geek. If you read his blog, you will see subtle references to sci-fi and comics throughout. He actually worked at a comic book shop for nine years! And in the near future, MaNishtana plans to write and draw his own comic for his new online mag, JN Magazine (the JN stands for Jewnited Nations).  I recently had the opportunity to talk comics with him.
UTF: What characters did you most connect to growing up?
I very much identified with Batman and pretty much anyone else in the bat-family who wasn’t Jason Todd. There was just something about that darkness and commitment to justice against all odds that really resonated with me. When it came down to it, if you had a question of who was the greater hero–Superman or Batman–the answer for me was always Batman. Superman–while great and noble and selfless and all that good stuff–largely went into situations knowing there was at least an 85% [chance] that  he’d be invulnerable against whatever was being thrown his way. Batman had no such odds, but was out there every night nonetheless. And I liked that about him. That and the fact that he was crazy, knew he was crazy, and didn’t care. He’s out there every night to make sure that no kid will ever end up like him and he knows that’s an impossible mission because he can’t be everywhere, but he still does it anyway. 
A sweet pic from his blog

A sweet pic from his blog

UTF: Why DC?  C’mon man, this in NY.

Well, once upon a time young grasshopper, Marvel was terrible at converting their comic properties into anything resembling something decent on screen and DC was decidedly not, so I ended up growing up on the 60’s Batman, the 40’s Superman, the 90’s Flash. Sure there was The Incredible Hulk, but that was really just a depressing hour of television. Good, but terribly depressing. There was never any light at the end of tunnel for Banner. And I guess that’s really why I was always more of a DC over Marvel kid. The DCU is bright. Happy. Over in Marvel every four seconds something terrible is happening, some segment of society is being oppressed and hunted down by the government, and I don’t know about you, but I really don’t see the point of reading about super-powered beings with insane capabilities if all they’re going to do is re-enact the news.
 UTF: How has comics shaped the man you have become?
Right now you’re talking to a man whose name is a pseudonym and who is the founder and executive director of the Shivtei Jeshurun Society for the Advancement of Jewish Racial & Ethnic Diversity, so you tell me. 

 UTF: What was your first comic book?

MaNishtana's first comic is somewhere is this pile.

MaNishtana’s first comic is somewhere is this pile.

 Who’s Who In The DCU, circa about 1986-87. Right around Crisis on Infinite Earths. 
 UTF: What comic book character do you most connect to today?
The last character I really connected to was Peter Parker back in the early days of Ultimate Spider-Man. Nowadays I feel more that I’m connecting to the “feel” of comic books and their worlds. Right now the worlds of Ross and Waid’s Kingdom Come, Oeming’s Powers, and Warren’s Empowered is where my headspace seems to be at. Actually, scratch that. I take that back. Demongoat in Empowered. I definitely think I’m clicking with him. There’s a conversation he has with Ninjette in Volume 7 which is absolutely mind blowing given everything you think you’ve known about the character from the first six volumes. And there’s absolutely no way I can give it away. You just have to read them straight through. But that crazy amount of unsuspected nuance definitely speaks to me.
 UTF: You recently launched the #PurimNotPredudice campaign with the catchphrase “Wear Costumes, not Cultures. Practice Religion, not Racism. Celebrate Purim, not Prejudice.”  You have wrote, “no Jew should tolerate individuals dressing like a “Mexican”, “Geisha girl”, or “thug”, or as a Black person by putting on black-face makeup. Dressing up as a stereotypical cultural character is problematic because it holds the same weighted history of dehumanization as the figure of Shylock.”  Since we have a lot of schmucks in our community that do not really understand cultural sensitivity, can you help them out by giving them some new costume ideas?  What are some comic book characters you would like to see more people dress up as? purim not prejudice
Well no, I’m not going to do their work for them. The burden is on them to not be schmucks, not for me to hold their hand. What I will do is point toward the purpose of costumes on Purim, which is to mimic/emulate Gd’s hidden Presence in the Purim story. Using that as a guiding point you can’t really go too wrong. As for characters I’d like to see people dress up as? I’m pretty sure everyone’s got nearly every base covered. There’s no one I’m really dying to see who hasn’t been done before. 
 UTF: Marvel and DC have never provided readers with an authentic representation of the diversity of the world we live in.  Recently, this has improved but we have a ways to go.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about how great it would be to see more characters representing the diversity within Jewish communities.  What would be the ideal way to use comics to portray an accurate representation of Judaism’s many shades and cultures?
That’s…an interesting and loaded seeming question. I mean, it’s not as if comics have an accurate representation of the Judaisms they DO portray…I don’t know if I really have an answer to that question. I guess comics should take the same approach to Judaism and its shapes and colors with the same earnest intentions and attention to detail and authenticity as Marvel seems to be undertaking with the new Ms. Marvel and previously with the Miles Morales Spider-Man, and their newer characters like Spider-Gwen, female Thor and Black Cap.

Check out MaNishtana’s personal blog at www.manishtana.net and follow him on Facebook here.