Earlier this week, Miriam Libicki wrote about the artistic process and progression in her most recent collection of graphic essays, Toward a Hot Jew, which will be featured in Jewish Book Council’s upcoming event, Ink Bleeds History: Reclaiming and Redrawing the Jewish Image in Comics. Miriam is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.
The two questions most dreaded by people who finish their first book are probably, “So what’s it about, in one sentence?” and “Who is the audience for this?”
Because of the long path of Toward a Hot Jew to publication, I’m actually pretty comfortable with the first question. This book is comprised of seven “drawn essays,” which is my term for creative nonfiction that combines words and pictures, but not always in the same way that comics do. I’m not anti-comics, though: I grew my pitches by selling these essays individually at comic-cons for the past ten years. At a con, I have to pitch each essay zine dozens of times a day at passersby, over the course of two to five days. I‘d print up a new pamphlet right before con, then test my pitch, changing words, adding or subtracting, until I got a sentence or two that made people stop and at least flip through the pages. By the end of con, I’d have my pitch.
My first drawn essay was Towards a Hot Jew, the (almost) title essay of this volume. I was back from four years living in Israel, working through some leftover romanticization of the country and fascinated by the hidden meanings in the way the IDF was reported on in North America. It’s deliberately provocative, but in the end, questioning and ambiguous. “This piece, I call it a drawn essay,” I say to the older couple in matching Batman shirts. “It’s about like the image of Israeli soldiers—” here I fan through the pages to show that although the subtitle includes “fetish object,” the book isn’t porn—“and what that image means to different people, and how it’s used.”
Who Wants to Be an Art Star was based on a project I did earlier, in undergrad, which I re-painted. The original assignment had been to “have an art experience” and write about it. My experience was to interview my classmates about theirs, and then draw it as a comic. “This is my least Jewy essay,” I say to the distracted girl with a portfolio, looking for her favourite pro artist. “It’s more about being a painting major, and interviewing other painting majors about their painting major adventures.”
Ceasefire was my first attempt at something like journalism comics. “It’s about the second Lebanon war in 2006,” I tell the dad dressed as Doctor Who holding his two Stone Angel daughters’ hands. “I happened to be visiting family in Israel right at the end, and I was trying to describe the atmosphere there, away from the front lines.”
This one was commissioned for an academic anthology (The Jewish Graphic Novel: Critical Approaches, ed. Samantha Baskind and Ranen Omer-Sherman). They said to me, “We liked Towards a Hot Jew. Can you do another one like that? Maybe about how you started making comics?”
“This one,” I say to two women in such impeccable business attire I can’t tell if they’re cosplaying or not, “is about the history and aesthetics of the auto-bio comix genre, and the Jewish influences on that.”
This is a sequel to Ceasefire, two years later. “It’s about going back to Israel,” I say to the couple dressed in beachwear. “After I hadn’t lived there for six years, and talking to Israelis about where the country was at, at that time.”
“This one is about the Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel,” I tell the man in the telltale olive un-logo-ed shirt and solid forearms of a soldier on leave, “and how they were first welcomed, but weren’t given visas to work, so they’re like a shadow underclass in Tel Aviv. And in May 2012, the government started inciting against them, and there were riots... I was home in Canada with my newborn baby, and just trying to figure it out from afar.” I’m rambling on and I’m rambling and probably getting too emotional, but he’s still with me.
My last essay is the latest, longest, and definitely the hardest to write and to explain. I spent all my pregnancy with my first child doing research, and didn’t finish the art until my second child was six months old. “It's about the changes in the global ‘meanings’ of Blackness and Jewishness, the historical relationship between African Americans and American Jews, the Ethiopian-Israeli community, and... other stuff.” I wrote to the founder of America’s oldest literary comics publisher. A bit awkward, but this one’s never been seen at a con yet.
As to the second question, who is my audience? Well, the easiest thing is to say “Jews,” but from experience at cons (and for the future of my career), it’s gotta be broader than that. I’m still figuring it out, though. Hopefully it includes you.
Miriam Libicki is a graphic novelist living in Vancouver, Canada. Her 2008 memoir jobnik! has been a required text in over ten university courses, and her short comics have been published by Alternate History Comics, Rutgers University Press, and the Journal of Jewish Identities. Libicki is a recipient of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture International Fellowship and the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Research Grant.
Hear Miriam Libicki speak about her work together with fellow graphic storytellers Eli Valley, Amy Kurzweil, and Rocket Chair Media at Ink Bleeds History: Reclaiming and Redrawing the Jewish Image in Comics Thursday, November 3, 2016 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Register online for free admission!