Given the lasting impact made by Jews throughout the history of comics, from Will Eisner to Art Spiegelman to Harvey Kurtzman to Sheldon Mayer, JEWS AND AMERICAN COMICS is a welcome collection and wonderful tribute --- as well as a wealth of information.
The book traces the history of Jews in comics from early newspaper work at the turn of the 20th century (first in Yiddish papers and later in mainstream newspapers across the country). The exploration of the comic art form and its natural convergence with the Jewish American experience is a seeming oddity that makes perfect sense. How Jewish writers and illustrators used the format to convey the collective experiences of their people, as well as their current place in society, and used animals, superheroes, and everyday people to draw it all out is important and useful knowledge for students of history and social studies just as much as for fans of comics.
Brown University professor Paul Buhle, a historian of the Jewish culture and the author of a three-volume Jews in American Pop Culture series, continues his exploration of how Jewish culture has become embedded in works of art, analyzing not only its influences but also the influences it in turn has had on later works. Buhle’s essays are the framework for the book, which also collects hundreds of works from artists over the past century, and traces the birth of this distinct art form and parallels it with the development of the Yiddish language.
The juxtaposition of comics images on the pages ranges throughout the past century and draws excellent parallels to Jewish life, bringing in history, philosophy, economic issues, prejudices, and more to develop a cohesive theme of art reflecting Jewish life. The book includes excerpts of works from so many people, well-known and little-known, such as Milton Caniff, Kim Deitch, Will Elder, Justin Green, Jules Feiffer, and so many more. Spanning such a broad range of talents further illustrates Buhle’s points in a great way.
Reviewed by John Hogan on July 9, 2012