Is Diss a Sys­tem?: A Milt Gross Com­ic Reader

Milt Gross: Ari Y. Kel­man, ed.
  • Review
By – September 7, 2011

Jews had an enor­mous impact on Amer­i­can pop cul­ture in the 20th cen­tu­ry, and often the influ­ence of Yid­dish lurks just beneath the sur­face of their work. Zig­gy Elman’s hit song And the Angels Sing” was orig­i­nal­ly a freilich, and many pop­u­lar come­di­ans got their start as tumm­lers in the Catskills. Sim­i­lar­ly, Milt Gross — a cel­e­brat­ed car­toon­ist in the 1930’s who is still revered by col­lec­tors of the genre — became famous part­ly for com­ic strips whose char­ac­ters spoke a Yid­dish-inflect­ed Eng­lish of his own invention. 

Ari Y. Kel­man has lov­ing­ly assem­bled a gen­er­ous sam­ple of that part of Gross’ work. It pro­gress­es from the sketch­es of Nize Baby (1926) to the longer-form sto­ries of Dunt Esk (1927) to parody/​adaptations of Longfellow’s Hiawatha and Clement Clark Moore’s Twas the Night Before Christ­mas. Hiawatha, in Gross’ dialect spelling, improb­a­bly trans­fers the sto­ry to sub­ur­bia, with a Yid­dish accent, while some­how keep­ing Longfellow’s trocha­ic tetram­e­ter. These extend­ed pieces dis­play Gross’ vir­tu­os­i­ty at its finest. 

Kelman’s 50-page intro­duc­tion is an indis­pens­able guide to the per­son­al, cul­tur­al, and soci­o­log­i­cal con­text that pro­duced these hybrid works that are still enter­tain­ing today.

Discussion Questions