Welcome to With Great Chutzpah Comes Great Responsibility, your every other week dose of Jews and comics. As a diehard fanboy since well before my bar mitzvah, I have a lot of knowledge on the subject. I pride myself on writing original content and not just spewing regurgitated research. That said, I often reference others’ work. My bookshelf (and floor) is filled with books on the history of comics and how Jewish culture helped shape it. Today’s column will recognize some of the gems I used as reference points in my work. These are books that have filled me with pride, books that have inspired me, and books that have given me new insight into both my love of comics and my love of my heritage.
Top Five Books on Jewish Comic History
From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books by Arie Kaplan
Authored by comic writer/comedian/cartoonist/buncha other stuff-ist Arie Kaplan, this award winning book is a comprehensive straightforward account of the history of my favorite artform. With an intro by the late Harvey Pekar, this is my most referenced book. An added bonus is that this book is filled with glossy, color images (unlike the other books which feature mostly black and white images).
Up, Up, and Oy Vey!: How Jewish History, Culture, and Values Shaped The Comic Book Superhero by Simcha Weinstein
Written from the perspective of a fanboy Rabbi, this book connects many of the top heroes to themes throughout the Jewish religion. Although it is not a straightforward history, Up, Up, and Oy Vey! is a fun book that I’ve read so many times that the pages are falling out. This is the book you carry with you to yeshiva. You will learn the similarities between the Justice League and the twelve tribes of Israel, how King David is connected to Spidey and how many other characters resemble biblical archetypes.
Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero by Danny Fingeroth
Danny Fingeroth is a man who wears many hats (including a kippah. Hahaha, I think I’m funny). This dude was a long time group editor at Marvel, taught comic history at fancy colleges, wrote loads of comics (Darkhawk, baby!), was a consultant for the original Spidey flick and is currently a consultant for the Wizard World conventions. His book is a personal look at comic history from the view of someone who works in the industry. Disguised as Clark Kent gives unique views on much of the industry’s history (including Thing’s heritage) and takes a deeper look at many of the less popular characters (such as Moon Knight). Disguised as Clark Kent is also the only book on the list that can claim to have an intro written by chosen creator Stan Lee, himself.
Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones
This is essentially the real story of Kavalier and Clay featuring two parallel plots: One of Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, the other of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Donenfeld is a pornographer and bootlegger with ties to the mob and Liebowitz is a radical socialist. Their story leads them to creating DC Comics. Their lives intersect with Siegel and Shuster’s after the later create Superman. A tragic story of the origins of the artform, Men of Tomorrow is a great read that will help you not only learn about the early days of the industry, but feel as if you experience them.
Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of an American Art Form edited by Paul Buhle
Definitely my least used reference book, but for some reason I always have it out. This book doesn’t focus much on mainstream comic books but delves deep into the underground press and independent scene. This book exposed me to some of the lesser known Jewish comics and comix. It also does a great job showing why, culturally, Jews were more predisposed to connect with comics. Unlike any of the other books, this one looks at the comic industry’s roots in the Yiddish press, and the early “super Jews” who broke through into mainstream dailies. It also features many rare comics reproduced.
The Story of the Jews: A 4,000-Year Adventure by Stan Mack
K, this is not a history of Jews and comics, but it is a history of Jews using comics. It covers a lot of material very quickly, so it is a great starting point for people who want to learn about Jewish history, or for kids who sleep through Hebrew School.
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe
I actually LOVED reading this book, but it is the opposite of any of the other books on this list- it erases the Jewish influence on comics. It must be said, historically, the Jewish influence on comics has been denied, especially by Jewish creators who did not want to put themselves in a box or open themselves to anti-Semitism. However, this book was not written in the 40’s, 60’s or even the 80’s; it was published in 2012, which is strange because by this time, most early creators have acknowledged their heritage, many publicly embracing it. Sean Howe had to actively decide not to acknowledge the early creators’ heritages, which makes this book seem as if it’s a forced distancing. Big OY to you, Mr. Howe.
I heavily recommend you check out any of the books that made this list, even the dis-honorable one. Enjoy your studies. Zay gezunt.