Visu­al Arts

Jew­ish Images in the Comics: A Visu­al History

Fredrik Stromberg
  • Review
By – November 2, 2012

If books were can­dy bars, this ency­clo­pe­dic treat would be a Chunky, both for its size and shape, as well as its ingre­di­ents: a savory assort­ment of infor­ma­tion mixed togeth­er into one fill­ing bite. Using exam­ples from more than one hun­dred fifty comics, this six-by-six-inch brick of a book illus­trates how Jews and Jew­ish themes have been depict­ed in comics over the years. Using the same for­mat he employed in his ear­li­er two books, Black Images in the Comics and The Comics Go to Hell, Ström­berg divides the book into per­ti­nent themes and then choos­es a selec­tion of comics that illus­trates each top­ic. There is some over­lap in the themes, but there are enough exam­ples of comics to ade­quate­ly cov­er the chap­ters on His­to­ry, Cul­ture, Anti-Semi­tism, The Shoah, Israel, Celebri­ties, Golem, Comics Cul­ture, Kosher Comics, and Jew­ish Char­ac­ters. Each com­ic is rep­re­sent­ed by one page, pan­el, or image, and accom­pa­nied by a short essay. Because Jews have been so unde­ni­ably instru­men­tal to the devel­op­ment and suc­cess of comics, there is much ground to cov­er in one book. Ström­berg does an admirable job, and this book will stand the test of time to become a use­ful resource. The usu­al sus­pects are includ­ed, such as Will Eis­ner, Art Spiegel­man, and Har­vey Pekar, as well as the many cre­ators of super­heroes, such as Jer­ry Siegel and Joe Shus­ter. French author Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat) gets atten­tion, as does Israeli Rutu Modan (Exit Wounds), among many oth­er graph­ic nov­el­ists and artists from around the world, giv­ing the read­er a very com­pre­hen­sive guide to the top­ic.

The book could use addi­tion­al edit­ing in order to neat­en up some awk­ward sen­tences and gram­mat­i­cal errors. The small for­mat of the book makes it unique in a mar­ket sat­u­rat­ed with books about graph­ic nov­els, but that same small size makes it dif­fi­cult to ful­ly read the text with­in the comics. Despite these minor com­plaints, this book should be required read­ing for any­body inter­est­ed in study­ing how Jews have been por­trayed in the very medi­um that they helped shape and nur­ture. Rather than read­ing cov­er-to-cov­er, it is best to dip into this vol­ume and expe­ri­ence a few bites at a time. An anno­tat­ed list of sources and an index round out the book. 

Wendy Was­man is the librar­i­an & archivist at the Cleve­land Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry in Cleve­land, Ohio.

Discussion Questions