Though Yiddish is no longer the binding language of European Jewry, as it was before the Holocaust, the culture it produced is still vibrant and, surprisingly, still growing in interest.
One unique addition to the body of Yiddish literature is a modest, but potent, collection of stories from Max B. Perlson titled A Minyen Yidn (un Andere Zakhn). Perlson’s book, originally published in 1938, would have languished as an obscure piece of literary ephemera if not for the intrepid work of Trina Robbins, Perlson’s daughter and a pioneer of underground and feminist-oriented comics. Robbins, who is also known for her groundbreaking work for Wonder Woman, writes in her introduction that she was once ambivalent about her father’s “Yiddishness” and for that reason did not originally care much for his work. It was only in recent years, when she discovered physical copies of Perlson’s original book, that Robbins became interested in the potential to express her father’s story in the medium she knows best: sequential art.
Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, Robbins realized her vision: to have her father’s stories translated into comic form. The result is a diverse and entertaining read. Perlson’s stories are mini-masterpieces of the sprawling art of conveying Jewish neuroses, empathy, hubris, and love. Like an Old World Harvey Pekar, Perlson had a way of navigating and removing the sentimentalities of the Jewish experience while still acknowledging the broader cultural life of the people who inhabit that world. Perlson’s characters run the gamut of the Yiddish literary tradition: There are nudnicks and nebbishes, no-goodniks and narishkeit, but along the way, there are also moments of tender heart and soul.
But Robbins’s secret weapon was choosing extremely talented artists to make her father’s stories truly sing for a modern audience. The stylistically varied illustrations add much to the emotional resonance of Perlson’s words. Highlights among the artists include Sarah Glidden, Robert Triptow, and Jen Vaughn, who each infuse their art with subtle, keen observations from Perlson’s original text, and unique perspectives on the material.
What ultimately makes A Minyen Yidn a special collection is Robbins’s affinity for the material and the care she has taken to ensure that her father’s work can be cherished by a new generation. The tales, while firmly taking place in the shtetl, are nevertheless relevant for a new era and timeless in their capacity to shed light on the universality of the Jewish condition.