In this fifth (and final) NYCC report, I will tell about the "Jewish Side of Comics" session that I moderated at the end of the final day.
Personally, I thought we had an excellent turnout. Among those in attendance were : Debbie Bergson (my wife), Rachel Birnboim (my cousin), Clifford Meth, Chari Pere, David Ben-Yshay (creator of the webcomic Shkoyach, "Typo Lad" (who runs the "What Were They Thinking?" blog), Roy Schwartz, Jordan B. Gorfinkel (author-illustrator of Everything's Relative, Rabbi Carey Freedman (author of Wisdom from the Batcave), Laurie Kleid, Elayne Riggs, Robin Riggs, Tim Lieder, David Wolkin, "Balaam's Donkey", "Laura" and "Jake". This was due, in part, to the pre-convention Internet publicity about this session specifically.
The New Comics Waiting Room Blog highlighted the panels which Danny Fingeroth was on at NYCC.
At ComicMix, Elayne Riggs asked " would it hurt them to have bagels? Or a maidele or two like Leela Corman (to talk about Unterzachen, her graphic novel in progress?"
Esther Kustanowitz at Jewlicious advertised the panel, though she herself was unable to attend.
The Daily Cross Hatch reccommended attending the panel, due to Neil Kleid being one of the panelists.
Loren Javier at One Diverse Comic Book Nation listed sessions that celebrated diversity in comics, including the "Jewish Side of Comics".
"Webmaster Brian" posted my "press release" to the Comic Book Conventions message board.
Rab at Estoreal mentioned the panel in a joke he made in reference to Brian Cronin, writing that "Brian Cronin is more Jewish than anyone in my family and any of my Jewish friends...and yet he's not actually Jewish. Or so he says."
At the Around Comics discussion board, David started a thread after stating that my session piqued his interest.
At Brian Michael Bendis's Jinxworld forum, DLevy started a thread about the "Jew panel", which panelist Neil Kleid took part in.
For his part, Neil himelf promoted the session via a bulletin at ComicSpace.
Embarassing as it is, I need to own up to the fact that the panel description ended up being less than accurate and I'll take the blame for that. Josef Rubinstein, as it turns out, will not be one of the contrributors on the anthology Balm in Gilead. In my defense, I was basing that fact on the information at the Mahrwood Press website, which still lists him as of this writing (Apr. 11, 2007). I also got info wrong about Stan Mack ; although he is working on a graphic history series, it is neither fictional nor specifically Jewish. Rubinstein didn't show up for the panel, even though I specifically reminded him about it - in person - immediately after I saw him following the Cockrum tribute session (just an hour earlier). Fortunately, Arie Kaplan was gracious enough to fill out the panel at the last minute --- and he hadn't even prepared notes.
The previous session had started late and also finished late. Thus, my session also started late. I am indebted to Clifford Meth for convincing those in the room to promptly vacate it so that our session could get started.
After introducing myself, I made short announcements concerning the latest news about Jewish comics (e.g. the Jewish Book Week panel and the Brandeis anthology) and then introduced the other panelists.
Neil Kleid described the different Jewish comics work that he has done and is working on. Personally, I'd have preferred to hear more about both The Big Khan and Migdal David, as I can read about the other stories &/or purchase them.
Danny Fingeroth read from his manuscript, trying to make the argument that the blond-haired Aryan-looking Thor the thunder god and the now-late Captain America are Jewish-like. He didn't say anything about the DeMatteis run of Captain America during which Steve Rogers (Captain America's civilian identity) dated Bernie Rosenthal. Maybe it's in the book?
Stan Mack told the story of how he came to write the graphic history book The Story of the Jews, despite "not being very Jewish" himself, after he retraced the Exodus journey "in reverse" during a trip to the Middle East.
Rabbi Simcha Weinstein retold the joke he had told in San Diego (which doesn't have to do with comics and is less funny the second time around). He then talked about parallels between the Biblical stories and comic book stories (e.g. comparing the origins of Superman and Moses, telling how Superman compared himself to Samson when he knocked down the pillars of a villain's lair).
Arie Kaplan gave an overview of how the comics industry both attracted and benefitted from writers and artists who happened to be Jewish and how this indirectly (and later more directly) was reflected in their comic stories.
After these presentations, there was a brief question-and-answer period. Myself, I can only recall 3 of the questions at the moment.
The first question had to do with how to "sell" a Jewish story idea to a non-Jewish (i.e. secular) comics publisher. I tried to broaden the question by rephrasing it in terms of how to market to both the Jewish and non-Jewish (i.e. secular comics) market. Neil seemed to feel that one has to choose one or the other when it comes to "niche stories". He presented the example of JT Waldman who initially had trouble selling his graphic novel idea to both Judaica publishers ("too much nudity") and alternative comics publishers ("too religious"). Eventually, Waldman's Megillat Esther was
both published by the Jewish Publication Society and distributed by Diamond. However, Neil suggested that a creator usually needs to choose between selling to a "Jewish market" or a "comics market". Still, I wonder if the Christian comics creators have managed to do both successfully.
The second questionner asked about the types of obstacles Neil's brother faced from the Orthodox community they lived in. Neil spoke of how his brother was essentially rejected from Neil's Yeshiva, even though his family was willing to pay any extra costs involved (e.g. for a special education teacher). Such an attitude was a major letdown for them. Stan then pointed out that, in his own experience dealing with Jewish support groups (his partner fought and lost a battle with cancer, as detailed in his memoir Janet and Me), he found them to be very helpful and understanding.
The final question was about whether there were any Orthodox Jewish superheroes who have Gentile friends. The panelists (including myself) may not have fully heard or understood the question. As a result, different panelists tried to offer examples that didn't seem to satisfy her, rather than say "I don't know" or "There don't seem to be any". I was at a bit of a disadvantage in that I answer those questions better when I have full access to my collection, rather than relying on just my memory. Since returning to Toronto (and my collection), I looked at the question again and came up with an answer. However, that answer will appear in a separate blog post (soon).
Shortly thereafter, it was pointed out that it was time for mincha / maarviv (the evening prayers) and a minyan (quorum) of 10 men soon assembled at the easternmost wall of the room.
In addition to a number of compliments I received from attendees in person after the panel was finished, at least 7 people have made comments about the panel via cyberspace.
Howling Curdmudgeons - Jake (in the "Comments" section) :
I went mostly to see the Jewish Side of Comics panel, which was excellent. I'd read the speculation about jewish subtext in Superman and Captain America's character designs, but I'd never thought of Thor in that category. Other interesting insights included the split markets for a book like Brownsville, since religious bookstores and Diamond aren't really in cahoots.
The Beat - Torsten Adair (in the "Responses" section) :
As a participant, I had a decent weekend, starting with the ICV2 GN conference and ending with the jewish panel on Sunday.
Elayne Riggs of ComicMix wrote :
Jews in SpaceThe Jewish Side of Comics featured moderator Steven Bergson and panelists Neil Kleid, Danny Fingeroth, Stan Mack, Rabbi Simcha Weinstein and Arie Kaplan. Alas, we needed to make our bus connection so we left about halfway through, but it was nice to have that sense of community reinforced and, because of that above all, this year's NYCC ended on a very high note.
Tim Lieder wrote at his livejournal :
Everyone on the panel seemed cool. Rabbi Simcha did lame Jewish jokes. Arie Kaplan talked about Mad magazine and its Jewish traditions (where non-Jews learned Yiddish) and we davened Mincha afterwards. Got there late so I didn't know about the first three speakers - except I did read the third guy's History of the Jews book - reminded me of Larry Gonick - which is unfortunate because he'll probably get compared most of the time. When I walked in the second guy was reading from an essay on Thor as a Jewish character.
Laura wrote at her Xanga site :
went to this Jewish Comics panel and I asked a question. Which was that if there is any jewish series comic that has a Jewish hero and is friends with non-Jews but he/she still keeps the faith. They all seemed quite surprised LOL. They said there is. I don't think they knew what the heck I meant.
Balaam's Donkey was more critical, commenting on the Jewlicious site (see "Commentds" section) :
I found Neil Kleid to be fantastic, in discussing the potential of the comics medium as an expressive Jewish art form. I was disconcerted by the fact that audience members seemed to have a problem with the fact that his upcoming work is critical of the Jewish community, and rightfully so, as it is his first-hand experience of his brother’s struggles at feeling welcomed into the Orthodox community in Michigan because of his developmental disabilities. As a Jewish educator with some background in special education, I’m truly excited by the work.
Arie Kaplan’s perspective seemed to have a fair amount of substance, and despite this, he was very humble and self-effacing about his credentials. While his book on the subject has yet to be published, I am excited to read his work, as his meanstream writing is quite enjoyable.
Rabbi Weinstein barely spoke about comics. He told a bunch of dumb jokes that had nothing to do with comics, because, in his own words “that’s what rabbis are supposed to do”. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a pretty lame image of the rabbi to present. His more fundamentalist readings of Judaism limit his ability to explore the true origins of hero literature and how it influences superheroes of today, which does link to the Bible, but predates it as well. In addition, his book is really lacking in substance, on a variety of different levels, and is really poor scholarship, to say the least. In all honesty, I have been equally disappointed by his book, his articles and the one time I have seen him speak, and this is as somebody who was initially excited about all three.
Stan Mack was pretty decent, and Danny Fingeroth not bad as well, but the content of the program itself really implied that there wasn’t a huge amount of knowledge about Judaism sitting up there, and much of the conversation in this case (and in general, as well) on the subject focused in the whole “wow! there sure are a lot of Jews in the comic book industry!” thing.
Panelist Neil Kleid was also critical, reporting on NYCC via his livejournal (see final paragraphs) :
The panel was... odd. Basically we each had some time to talk about whatever we wanted - i was under the assumption that we were going to be given questions by the moderator so I made a UJA joke and just sort of introduced my work and passed it along to the rest of the folks, each who had prepared something. Danny read from his book about whethere Captain America and Thor were Jewish, Stan talked about his roots as regards walking the homeland and his books on history, the Rabbi... well, his was a bit rambly but pretty good about jews as relates to superherocis and oppression and Arie...well, Im not sure what his was about apart from him giving instances of Judiasm throughout his work. I got to shine, though, during the Q & A where I discussed the direct market VS the Judaic book market and instances of judiasm in mainstream comics. Overall, though, I'm not sure what the panel did other than to serve as a big ol' Jewish hoedown for us to say "we're jewish! we're here! get used to it!" I really wanted to explore why, apart from Stan Mack and I, none of the others were creating original fiction with jewish characters instead of devoting time and effort into trying to explain how Doctor Strange might be Jewish because he likes Chinese food.