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Monday, July 28, 2008

The Comix Side of the Association of Jewish Libraries Conference in Cleveland (2008)

My AJL convention / vacation in June went amazingly well.

I had worried that my session would have a low turnout, but that was not the case. The room had about 40 seats and most of those seats were filled throughout the session. I had made 40 copies of the handout, but was asked to make an additional 20 more for a handouts table (they had disappeared by the end of the convention).

I ran into people who said that they were interested in my "Israel in Comics" presentation, but were unable to attend. I told them about how the session was recorded for a podcast file which will be available online later this year (I'll announce it with the address once I find out). I also told people the website address for the presentation blog -

Miriam Libicki read from her graphic works (with the graphics displayed on a screen as she read) "Towards a Hot Jew: The Israeli Soldier as Fetish Object", The jobnik! Manifesto, and an as-yet-unpublished essay which will appear in an anthology titled The Jewish Graphic Novel: Critical Approaches.

I bought the jobnik! volume 1 trade paperback, Ceasefire and Towards a Hot Jew, which all got signed by Miriam.

Among the factoids I learned at Steve Sheinkin's panel were : Steve had to rewrite & redraw a story in which Rabbi Harvey would have "accidentally" rolled up a paper that would have condemned him to death and used it to make a cigarette which he then smoked (the book editor didn't think a role model like Rabbi Harvey should be shown smoking) ; Steve has used Rabbi Harvey to explain Jewish wedding customs for a pamphlet given out at a friend's wedding ; Steve has written & illustrated a book review of The Rabbi's Cat 2 for Jbooks in a comix format using Rabbi Harvey as the reviewer.

Steve signed one of my Rabbi Harvey books (the other one was already signed) and also drew a Rabbi Harvey sketch for me.

I bought a copy of Mendel's Daughter : A Memoir and got Martin Lemelman to sign it for me.

At Bill Rubin's session (which was part of the special Celebration of Jewish Children's Literature program), he gave insight into the creation of the award-winning graphic history book Homeland : The Illusterated History of the State of Israel, such as the decision to use a modestly-dressed female university professor as the narrator of the book, the attempt to try to provide rock-solid historical accuracy to avoid criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, the intentional blurring of the depiction of the Biblical Isaac (to avoid reader dissatisfaction about Isaac's age, since that is a subject under debate among Biblical scholars) and Marv Wolfman's insistence on the double-page spread that appears at the end of the book. Truth to tell, that was one of the parts of the book that disappointed me. As Bill exsplained, Marv felt that the book should show how the ghosts of Herzl and Moses are still with us in the present. I do understand that, but personally I felt that it was already implied by the way that Moses and Herzl both saw blurry visions of the same Tel Aviv "skyline of the future" which appears in crystal-clear color as the students of today are looking at it. I agree with the sentiment, but felt that the reader should have realized that the spirits of our ancestors are still with us, by making the connection on their own and that having Moses and Herzl drawn as ghosts kind of spolied it.

At the Jewish Publication Society table, I had a chance to peruse the galley for Arie Kaplan's forthcoming book From Krakow to Krypton : Jews and Comics. At the Ben Yehuda Press table, I learned that the Yudelsons (the co-publishing couple at BYP) were interested in the work of Aaron Freeman & Sharon Rosenzweig (who co-write the comics that appear on the Comic Torah website).

Among the tourist attractions and other places we visited, there were additional opportunities to see comics art - some intentional, some not so much.

We made certain to drive to Columbus so that we could visit the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University. I had a chance to look at original artwork from Jeff Smith, creator of the epic Bone series currently being republished in color by Scholastic. The exhibition "Jeff Smith : Before Bone" displays pages from the comic strip "Thorn", which ran in the Ohio State University student newspaper The Lantern. I hadn't realized that Smith was a student at OSU nor known that he used Thorn to flesh out the characters who would later figure prominently in his Bone series. I also took a look at 2 Jewish cartoon books by Joe Nebesky that were in the collection : Ring around the Talis and Rabbi Knows Best.

One of the special exhibits at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum was a look behind the scenes of the Beatles movie Help!. Among the photos on the walls were at least 2 which showed that Paul McCartney enjoyed reading American comic books, specifically Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. I had never even known there were such photos ... but someone else apparently knew about them and posted them on his blog.

At the Eton mall in Woodmere, I couldn't help stepping inside the Dick Kleinman Fine Art Gallery, the portraits of the current US presidential candidates having captured my attention. At the back of the gallery, there was a display of artwork by the great children's author and illustrator Dr. Seuss. Among the familiar illustrations which went into his classic picture books were illustrations and sculptures I'd never seen before - self-portraits, a bronze sculpture of a group of turtles standing one on top of the other in a tower formation and 3-dimensional pieces from Seusss's "collection of unorthodox tapestry". If you're in that area, I reccommend that you take a look for yourself.

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