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Saturday, April 22, 2006

My review of Brownsville by Neil Kleid

Kleid, Neil and Jake Allen. Brownsville. NY : NBM ComicsLit, 2006. 207 p. $18.95 (ISBN 1-56163-458-1)

Rather than glamorize the lucrative lifestyle of the Jewish mafia of the 1930's or present the usual good-vs.-evil morality tale, Kleid delivers a more complex story in this graphic novel. The protagonist, Allie Tannenbaum, isn't a poor kid trying to escape poverty. His concerned father doesn't forbid him from joining Lepke's gang, but tries to emphasize to Allie how such choices are his to make --- and that they can be very costly.

In addition to the cast of fictional and real-life Jewish characters (such as Meyer Lansky, Dutch Schultz and Harry Strauss), there are Jewish references sprinkled throught the book : Yiddish phrases and terms thrown around, a mobster telling how Mendy Weiss doesn't kill on shabbos, a Star of David necklace used in arranging a surrendering to the authorities.

Allen's illustrations and pacing maintain the suspense and action, while Kleid's script blends fictional narrative with well-researched facts. A bibliography of novels, non-fiction, films and websites appers at the end, encouraging readers to learn even more about this forgotten dark chapter of Jewish history.

Though the violence in the book isn't gratuitous, it is present quite often, along with coarse language. I would reccommend this book for the Judaica graphic novel sections of public, synagogue and high school libraries.

My review of Jetlag by Etgar Keret

Keret, Etgar and Actus Comics. Jetlag New Milford, CT : Toby Press, 2006. 80 p. ISBN : 1-59264-155-5

The first thing that one notices about the 5 graphic novellas in this collection is how different they seem, despite all being written by the same author. This is partly due to the way Keret varies the personalities and characteristics of his protagonists from one story to the next. It is also a result of the unique artistic style of each of the individual artists who illustrate his stories here (in dazzling color).

On the surface, none of these tales seem to be particularly Jewish or even particularly Israeli (the locale chosen for each story is different, though part of the first story takes place in Tel Aviv). Taken as a whole, though, the reader is exposed to a world where mundane normalcy is horribly interrupted by death, dismemberment or the threat of violence - symbolically evocative of the unpredictable terror that has become a fact of everyday Israeli life.

There are no wars, suicide bombers or terrorists in this book. There aren't even any true antagonists, in the sense that we're used to reading in literature. Instead there are such "Twilight Zone"-style absurdities as a rabbit's severed head being pulled out of a magician's hat, a woman who becomes infatuated with a dead man, a plane that is deliberately crashed to teach a lesson, a disabled monkey driven around in a wheelchair and a boy's beloved piggy bank.

I would reccommend this title for the general adult (and teen) graphic novel collections of public, academic and synagogue libraries, as there are scenes which are inappropriate for children.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Up Up and Oy Vey

You can now pre-order copies of the book Up, Up, and Oy Vey : How
Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book
by Rabbi Simcha Weinstein by going to,-42&Product_ID=18

Up, Up, and Oy Vey chronicles how Jewish history, culture, & values helped shape the early years of the comic book industry.

The early comic book creators were almost all Jewish, and as children of immigrants, they spent their lives trying to escape the second-class mentality which was forced on them by the outside world. Their fight for truth, justice, and the American Way is portrayed by the superheroes they created. The dual identity given to their creations mirrors their own desire to live two lives—privately as a Jew, and publicly as an American.

Their creations are the descendants of a Jewish tradition littered with stories of super strength from Samson to the Golem of Prague. An increasing number of fans and amateur historians, obsessed with back-story "mythology," claim they've uncovered the secret "Jewish-ness" of the comic book characters. Superheroes, they claim, are usually outsiders; gifted yet misunderstood, and strangers in a strange land.

This book observes comic book superheroes through three different lenses—historical, cultural, and biblical/spiritual. Utilizing a bibliographic and subjective methodology, the author (an ordained rabbi) charts how the superhero model has unconsciously tapped into the deepest core of Jewish spiritual understanding.

Both teenagers and adults, especially those that are history enthusiasts, pop culture fans, seekers of Jewish spirituality, new-age mysticism cohorts, and of course, comic book readers, will enjoy reading this exciting and inspiring account of the birth and mythical origins of the comic book.

Book on the history of Jews in comics

Arie Kaplan is currently writing a book on the history of Jews in comics to be published by JPS in 2007. Interviewees include Art Spiegelman (Maus), Trina Robbins (GoGirl!), and the late, great Will Eisner (The Spirit).

The Jewish Graphic Novel : Artist's Panel

The Jewish Graphic Novel : Artist's Panel
April 26 at 7 pm

Miriam Katin has been added to the HUC panel, according to Arie Kaplan.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Multicultural super-team with a Jewish superhero (cartoon series)

That's right!

As "The Human Resource" reports at Start Snitching, the Minoriteam consists of

a wheelchair bound Asian, a bulletproof Indian clerk, a super fast Black man, a Jewish guy and a hard-working Mexican

The Jewish guy is young Neil Horowitz, who shouts "Hidal Didal Didal" to transfrom into Jewcano - "a man with all the powers of the Jewish faith --- and a volcano".

Special Haggadah with Comic Art

A special Haggadah was recently put together by Rachel Barenblat (aka "The Velveteen Rabbi"), using donations of material from such artists as Yaron Livay, Allan Hollander and Alison Kent Emily Cooper, Beth Budwig, and Eisner-award-winning comics artist Howard Cruse.

Cruse's rendering of "The Four Sons" (the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son and the son who does not know how to question) appears at the bottom of page 18 in Rachel's haggadah. At his blog, Cruse shows and explains the process of drawing this illustration.

You may view Barenblat's Haggadah by going to (Acrobat format).

Monday, April 17, 2006

Brownsville review & offer

Jason Rodriguez provided a mini-review of Neil Kleid's Jewish mob story at his "The Moose in the Closet" blog --- and he also offered to mail the book to someone who would agree to review it (chosen at random from those who posted comments at his blog).

I can't wait to read & review it.


Superman again - Jews in pop culture

Tim Lieder briefly discusses Action Comics #835, the Pulitzer-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and the miniseries Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy at weirdjews2.

The Bible and Graphic Novels: A Review and Interview with the Authors of "Marked" and "Megillat Esther"

The above article by Dan W. Clanton, Jr. may be read at the Society of Biblical Literature website. Apparently, it was posted between Jan. 17th and Feb. 21, 2006.

And it happened in the days of Achashverosh...

Over at The Last Trumpet, Drew Cohen tells us that he picked up a copy of Waldman's Megillat Esther :

It's a beautiful graphic novel with both Hebrew and translation of the Megilla, as well as some midrash regarding various aspects of the story. I hope to gain some insight from it in planning our Purimspiel.

Drew also shares a graphic from the book at the top of the entry.

Rescue Of Lubavitcher Rebbe From Nazis Made Into DC Comic Book (Sgt. Rock: The Prophesy)

from Failed Messiah :

Famous comic book artist and creator Joe Kubert has drawn a six-part series for DC comics. Sergent Rock: The Prophesy, 'based' on Brian Mark Rigg's book Rescued From the Reich, "tells the story" of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn's rescue from the Nazis early in WW2. The New York Jewish Week reports:

A U.S. Army reconnaissance unit parachutes into Vilna in 1943.

Surrounded by the Nazi and Russian armies, under heavy shelling, the American soldiers rendezvous with a Lithuanian partisan, a bearded hulk of a man named Bear. Stepping out of the rubble, Bear declares “We got package for you, very valuable, very … breakable.”

Then the soldiers overpower a pair of German tanks. Bear and the resistance fighters find refuge from the barrage in the shell of a building. Bear departs, and returns with his “very valuable package,” someone covered with a cloak.…

Kubert’s story is based on a true tale, the rescue of Rabbi Joseph Schneersohn, leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic movement, from Warsaw in 1940. It was the subject of Bryan Mark Rigg’s 2004 book “Rescued from the Reich: How One of Hitler’s Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe.”

A friend gave Kubert the book last year. “I felt it was a real interesting story,” he said.

Rigg's book does tell an interesting story, but it is not the story Joe Kubert tells. Kubert has changed the facts and distorted the story to make his comic book more exciting. This would be fine if no mention was made about the historical event that inspired him. To to promote the comic book on that event while distorting that event in the comic book is reprehensible.

Perhaps DC Comics can clarify the issue and explain their marketing. I'll keep you posted.

For the actual details of the rescue along with other posts about Chabad and the Holocaust, please click the Chabad and the Holocaust link at the bottom of this post, scroll down to the bottom of the page and read upward. Thank you.

UPDATE: In this article written last month, Kubert describes the rabbi as a "snotty kid." I'm still waiting a reply from DC Comics, but it appears the comic book does not mention the Lubavitcher Rebbe by name, and does not mention Rigg's book either, so the only link between Chabad and the comic book is the Jewish Week article linked above. This would explain why Chabad's spinmeisters have not yet attacked Kubert. I suspect this will turn out to be a case where Kubert simply wanted to acknowledge Rigg's book for the basic idea of a rabbi being rescued from the clutches of the Nazis, but no more than that. Perhaps he even made this clear in his Jewish Week interview, but the JW blew the coverage. Or, perhaps he was not clear enough. More on this if and when DC Comics and others involved respond.

February 09, 2006

Joe Kubert, by the way, used to (still does?) draw for the Lubavitch "Moshiach Times," along with Mad Magazine's Al Jafee and the late Dave Berg.

Posted by: Nachum * February 10, 2006 at 08:03 AM

Havoc 21 #2

Baz reviews the first 3 issues of this "Definitive Irish Anthology" by Wolfman Productions at his Owl in Daylight blog.

In discussing the 2nd issue, he writes :
Indeed, the anthology kicks off with a story about pacts and regrets set against the backdrop of the holocaust. It’s a brave move to start a comic with the words ‘Heil Hitler’, and I’m not entirely sure that The Grave has the maturity or skill to pull it off, rather it seems to revel in the horrors of torture in order to provide a basis for the story’s final twist. The artwork is unconvincing too and appears to consist of delicately hand-drawn pictures that have, at some point, been mangled by a computer leading to some clumsy shading and an unnecessary pixelation and an overall cut-out feel. The pixelation in particular is a shame and there really is no excuse for it, there are hundreds of tutorials on the internet about scanning techniques and image preparation for the small press scene and allowing your art to be presented to the public in such a state shows not only a lack of quality control but a contempt for your audience, in my opinion.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Jewish superheroes audio interview

I was interviewed in December by Heidi Estrin for her podcast "The Book of Life". You may listen to the episode by going to

Beowulf #4

Johnny Bacardi provides summaries of and page scans from DC's Beowulf #3 and #4 (from the 1970's).

In #4, Beowulf and his companions battle Vlad Tepes the Impaler, who is in conflict with the Ashers, the Lost Tribe of Israel, who hunt him for his atrocities.

As Wulfy and company trek across the desert, they are attacked by the Ashers, who mistake them for Vlad and his men. Beowulf convinces them of the truth by virtue of a huge chain. Seeing the error of their ways, the Asher leader introduces himself as Bruzz-Solomon and his second-in-command as Yusashia Ben Simon, and explains how Vlad Tepes, the evil Wallachian, has invaded the desert from the north- not to conquer but to plunder, torture and kill. In a really nice montage, artist Villamonte depicts him and his men dealing death and Vlad in one scene refusing to drink wine, instead preferring a cup of blood. He says, that's right, "Fool- I never!" Anyway, the Ashers apologize and Beowulf says "You may dress differently and believe in a different god, but we fight for the same cause. Beowulf stands WITH you against the madman Dracula!" They then retire to the campfire to plot strategy.

[T]hey are suddenly set upon by the Wallachians, with Vlad Tepes at the head! The battle rages on, with one unfortunate casualty for the Ashers: Solomon, who gets a death scene which made me a huge fan of this series in just one page.

After they're gone, the two remaining warrior chiefs say their goodbyes, with Ben Simon leaving Beowulf with a Star of David for good luck.

A scan of the page showing Solomon getting killed is at As he lies dying, Solomon recites the Shema prayer (often said by Jews who are near death). Yushashia then begins to recite the kaddish (mourner's prayer).

German and the Jew

German and the Jew by Mazokuni

A student whose blog name is "Mazokuni" is writing a story called The German and the Jew for a graphic novel class.

You may view sketch pages at


rough translation from :

Receiving a scholarship from the Jewish Museum in Rendsberg allowed Elke Steiner the chance to transpose the story of a small Jewish Community from 1695-1942 into comic form.

Flash Comics #38 (Feb. 1943)

According to the entry at Grand Comics Database, the 6th story is "The Story of Daniel: Part One", reprinted from Picture Stories from the Old Testament.

All-American Comics #47 (Feb. 1943)

According to the entry at Grand Comics Database, the 12th story is "The Story of Joshua -- Part 1", reprinted from Picture Stories from the Old Testament.

Rhymes with Orange - Jan. 2, 2006


The Chanukah Cheadache Checklist (8 days)

We Are On Our Own

We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin

from Comics212 :

We Are On Our Own
Miriam Katin
HARDCOVER book, 136 pages, 8 x 8.5 inches, full color.
$ 19.95 USD

A stunning memoir of a mother and her daughter’s survival in WWII and their subsequent lifelong struggle with faith. Miriam Katin retells the story of her and her Mother’s escape on foot from the Nazi invasion of Budapest. With her father off fighting for the Hungarian army and the German troops quickly approaching, Katin and her mother are forced to flee to the countryside after faking their deaths. Leaving behind all of their belongings and loved ones, and unable to tell anyone of their whereabouts, they disguise themselves as a Russian servant and illegitimate child, while literally staying a few steps ahead of the German soldiers. Katin, whose short stories first appeared in the Drawn & Quarterly anthology, has completed her first full-length graphic novel at the age of sixty-three.

Crickets #1

Crickets #1 by Sammy Harkham

from Comics212 :

[T]his two-colour "Ignatzesque" graphic novella starts off with the first installment of the ongoing story, about a man who seemingly can't die, a golem, and frontier America.

from :

Harkham, who edits the Art Comic anthology Kramer's Ergot, tells a story of a Golem and his master here in 6 panel pages. The artwork is highlighted by a green and yellow pressing, and it moves along nicely.

Hatzelem (הצלם) by Avraham Guy Barchil

from Jerusalem Post (Feb. 23, 2006)

Hatzelem, a graphic novel, illustrates the life of a cubist man in a cubist world, and his quest for a circular form. The work is somewhat autobiographical, an allegory for the artist's own search for spiritual truth. The idea for the circle within the square comes from Jewish sources, illustrated as geometric diagrams of a square within a circle, and another one of the converse, in the Babylonian Talmud (Succot). Hatzelem opens with a text by Rabbi Isaac Luria (Ha'arizal), discussing the square steps to the higher levels of this world and the primordial round steps that will return in the world to come. It closes with another dozen Jewish sources - midrashim, Etz Ha'hayim, Sfat Emet and the Zohar among them - all discussing the symbolism of the circle and square. But Barchil uses only a minimum of text, and only as a framing device. The viewer is shown the mystical narrative through the elegant black-and-white pictures alone.

There's something revolutionary about this venture - what's called avant-guard in the art world, and perhaps even prophetic in the religious one. Barchil takes the most esoteric Jewish texts and makes them accessible to the masses through the "low" medium of comic book art.

The portrayal of his spiritual quest is worth seeing.