Paris is generally a great city for readers of comic strips, or what the French call bandes dessinées. But this spring, the City of Lights truly outdid itself, offering major museum retrospectives of the careers of two great American cartoonists: Art Spiegelman, at the Centre Georges Pompidou; and R. Crumb, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. (more…)
Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & the New Land
Edited by Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle
Abrams ComicArts, 240 pages, $29.95
People don’t admire paintings they haven’t seen, or dance to music they haven’t heard, but they do all sorts of crazy things with languages they don’t speak. This is what Rutgers University scholar Jeffrey Shandler described in his 2005 book, “Adventures in Yiddishland” (University of California Press), as “postvernacular culture”: Just because people don’t know a language doesn’t mean they won’t hold intense beliefs about it, long for it or revile it, and, in ways both brilliant and bizarre, put it to use.
“Yiddishkeit,” an anthology co-edited by comics great Harvey Pekar, who passed away last year, and leftist scholar and non-Jewish Yiddish-speaker Paul Buhle, does not attempt to teach its reader a selection of Yiddish words, unlike Michael Wex’s and Leo Rosten’s best-sellers. And it is not a history or an analysis of Yiddish culture, nor a collection of Yiddish literature translated into English. It’s weirder, more puzzling and more difficult to describe: We might call it a postvernacular tour de force. (more…)
Galit and Gilad Seliktar
Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 136 pages, $25
Why is it that graphic novels are so much more interesting these days than their prose siblings? (more…)
Backing Into Forward: A Memoir
By Jules Feiffer
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday: 450 pp., $30
Whether newspapers live or die, the prognosis for the comic strip doesn’t look promising. The extinction of the form not much more than a century after its birth would represent only a very minor tragedy too, given the rise of the graphic novel — who would shed a tear for “Hägar the Horrible” in the age of “Fun Home” and “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth”? — except it would also mean we no longer live in a world with a berth reserved for the likes of Jules Feiffer. (more…)
Breadowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %&*!
By Art Spiegelman
Pantheon. 72 pages. $27.50.
Publishing a literary masterpiece can be a little like creating a golem, it seems: first you’re just proud you were able to create it, then you’re astonished to see how powerful it becomes, and then, suddenly, you’re scared you can’t control it. That’s been Art Spiegelman’s experience, at least, with Maus, one of the finest comic books ever printed and among the great literary achievements of the past quarter century. One panel of Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! – a recent series of Spiegelman’s brief autobiographical comics – makes this clear: “It’s no use…,” Spiegelman’s avatar says, glancing back at a monolithic mousy representation of his father: “No matter how much I run I can’t seem to get out of that mouse’s shadow.” (more…)
The Word-Wise Adventures of Yisrael and Meir: Book One
By Yitzchok Kronblau
Illustrated by Ruth Beifus
80 pages. Arscroll/Mesorah. $24.99.
Trekking Through Time:
The Word-Wise Adventures of Yisrael and Meir: Book Two
By Yitzchok Kronblau
Illustrated by Ruth Beifus
104 pages. Arscroll/Mesorah. $24.99.
Like many comic-book adventure series, The Word-Wise Adventures of Yisrael and Meir begins with a call to save the world. One morning, an Orthodox Jewish kid discovers a way to eliminate pain and suffering. According to a teaching of the Chofetz Chayim, a.k.a. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, “Every single day we wait for Mashiach to come, but—do you hear this—he is being held back because we are speaking loshon hora!” The Messiah, that is, won’t show up until Jews stop breaking the commandments related to improper speech.
The boy and his younger brother set out to make this happen, and though they haven’t been struck by radiation, or empowered by the rays of the sun, or descended from aliens, and though they don’t sport capes or unitards, these boys are clearly the author’s and publisher’s idea of Jewish superheroes. (more…)
A Dangerous Woman
The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman
By Sharon Rudahl
The New Press. 112 pages. $17.95.
Emma Goldman’s life is a writer’s dream—long and sordid, inspiring and debased, full of sex, political courage, and international intrigue. She was, after all, a nice Jewish girl who conspired to break her lover out of prison, inspired a presidential assassin, and penned detailed accounts of her sexual affairs with younger men. Red Emma, as she was known, is widely remembered as the most famous anarchist in turn-of-the-20th-century America, a rebel against conventional morality who crusaded for free speech and birth control, and against exploitation. She’s been an inspiration to radicals for over a century.
Already adapted in novels (like E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime) as well as in movies and plays, treated in Goldman’s thousand-page autobiography and myriad scholarly, commercial, and politically oriented biographies, Goldman’s life has now been translated into the graphic novel medium. The project, Sharon Rudahl’s A Dangerous Woman, has tremendous potential—not only because it promises to present a stylized version of Goldman’s life in vivid pictures, but also because it has been undertaken by a dedicated leftist and feminist fiercely loyal to Goldman’s legacy. Unfortunately, though, A Dangerous Woman doesn’t deliver on its promise. (more…)