Graphical Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women – August 14, 2011 – April 15, 2012
Jews were among the pioneers of the comics genre. Superman, created in 1932 by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, started the superhero character and established its supremacy in the mainstream comic book market. Seventy nine years after its creation, Superman still fights the never ending battle for Truth, Justice and the American Way. This past May it placed first on Imagine Game Networks‘ Top 100 Comic Book Heroes.
Superman has fascinated scholars, cultural observers, commentators and critics who have explored the character’s impact in the United States and around the world. Even Italy’s renowned novelist, university professor Umberto Eco discusses the mythic qualities of the character.
In 1952 a new type of comic joined the mainstream when editor Harvey Kurtzman and publisher William Gaines launched MAD, first as a comic book and then as a magazine. Widely imitated and influential, it impacted the satirical media as well as the entire cultural landscape of the 20th century.
Jews continued to break new ground in the comic book genre and in 1976 Harvey Pekar started writing (with the assistance of various artists, most notably Robert Crumb, Aline Kominski-Crumb‘s husband and sometime collaborator) a series of autobiographical comic books under the title American Splendor.
Starting out with a three page strip in Funny Animals (an underground comic published by Apex Novelties) it took Art Spiegelman 13 years to complete Maus, a Survivor’s Tale. It was published in 2 volumes, the first in 1986 and the second in 1991; in 1992 it became the only comic or graphic novel ever to win the Pulitzer Prize!
While mainstream comics were read mostly for escapism and satire, underground comics reflected a bit more of the real everyday world we live in, yet both remained men’s realms until 1972 when Wimmen’s Commix made its appearance. A core of its contributors, including the first editor (Trina Robbins), were Jewish. As comics evolved with the times; women started ascribing personal, confessional sides to their characters, including health issues, intimate moments, and emotive reflections on parents, family and the world around them.
Eighteen artists are represented here, some with almost four decades in the field. They are:
- Aline Kominsky-Crumb
- Vanessa Davis
- Bernice Eisenstein
- Sarah Glidden
- Miriam Katin
- Miss Lasko-Gross
- Miriam Libicki
- Corinne Pearlman
- Sarah Lightman
- Sara Lazarovic
- Diane Noomin
- Trina Robbins
- Rachel Rottner
- Sharon Rudahl
- Laurie Sandell
- Ariel Schrag
- Lauren Weinstein
- Ilana Ziffren
Drawing styles vary greatly, including some with very marked influences by MAD Magazine‘s artists and others. Subject matter ranges from “coming of age” stories, to heartbreak over miscarriages, to attitudes in the Israeli Army; all share bluntness mixed with inescapable vulnerability. Going through the exhibit – as a proudly frum male – I was sometimes discomfited by the naked lack of subtlety in getting to the heart of the matter. Considering, that we live in the age of Androids and iPhones, where we have but a few seconds to catch the viewer’s attention, these women artists are remarkably adept at making their public statements with overt clarity. Some artists peeled layer after layer in their onion-skinned confessional revealing startling beauty and depth of core amidst the unprettiness they expose.
There is almost nothing in the whole exhibit that is of a religious nature, and when religion is discussed it is not done in favorable terms.
This exhibit may not be everybody’s cup of tea but it is more than worth seeing, precisely because it will disturb and cause us to reflect on what it reveals about the artists and about ourselves.