Ear­li­er this week, Julian Voloj wrote about the sto­ry behind Ghet­to Broth­er and the con­tin­u­ing lega­cy of Jews in comics. He is blog­ging here all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series on The ProsenPeo­ple.

In a recent inter­view, I was recent­ly asked how I would define Ghet­to Broth­er. My answer was a fic­tion­al­ized bio­graph­ic comic.”

Bio­graph­i­cal comics are increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar, and Har­vey Peckar mas­tered this genre with his Amer­i­can Splen­dor series, which debuted in 1976. Seth Kushner’s Schmuck, a new graph­ic nov­el anthol­o­gy, stands in this tradition.

Orig­i­nal­ly a web series on TripC­i­ty, Schmuck is the semi auto­bio comix neu­rot­ic” sto­ry of Kusher’s alter ego Adam Kessler, a pop-cul­ture obsessed pho­tog­ra­ph­er torn between pleas­ing Mom by find­ing a nice Jew­ish girl, and fig­ur­ing out what he real­ly wants.” 

The Yid­dish word schmuck” refers to an obnox­ious per­son, but every­one who ever met Kush­n­er will attest that he was any­thing but. I per­son­al­ly first encoun­tered this very tal­ent­ed artist when he shot the Beast­ie Boys for Heeb. Known pri­mar­i­ly as a por­trait pho­tog­ra­ph­er, he pub­lished The Brook­lynites, an homage to his home bor­ough, in 2007. Kushner’s pas­sion was comics, and a year lat­er, he start­ed a series of por­traits of car­toon­ists, lat­er called Graph­ic NYC (with writer Christo­pher Irv­ing) and pub­lished in 2012 as Leap­ing Tall Build­ings: The Ori­gins of Amer­i­can Comics.

I met Kush­er around that time when writ­ing about the book for the Swiss week­ly tach­les, for which I also wrote about Ben­jamin Melen­dez. We stayed in touch and, both of us being pho­tog­ra­phers with a pas­sion for comics, showed mutu­al appre­ci­a­tion for each other’s work. My per­son­al favorite was Cul­ture Pop, a series com­bin­ing both Kushner’s pas­sions with fumet­ti (pho­to-comics).

Kush­n­er start­ed Schmuck in 2012, com­mis­sion­ing dif­fer­ent artists to illus­trate fun­ny lit­tle schmuck” episodes. The series ends— spoil­er alert — with Kessler find­ing his bash­ert, or soul mate — in real life, his wife Ter­ra. (The two had a son, Jackson.)

In 2014, Kush­n­er launched a suc­cess­ful Kick­starter cam­paign for the graph­ic nov­el, but unfor­tu­nate­ly was short­ly after­wards diag­nosed with can­cer. Kush­n­er doc­u­ment­ed his bat­tle with leukemia on social media, and his sto­ry was ready for a hap­py end­ing when he was released from the hos­pi­tal near­ly a year lat­er. In May, short­ly after Ghet­to Broth­er was released, we were chat­ting about the book and mak­ing plans to meet. A week lat­er, sad­ly, Kush­n­er passed away.

Seth Kush­n­er was a bril­liant pho­tog­ra­ph­er and writer, and a real mensch. 

Born in Ger­many to Colom­bian par­ents, Julian Voloj is used to liv­ing in between worlds. In his work, the grand­son of Shoah sur­vivors explores ques­tions of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and heritage.

Relat­ed Content:

Julian Voloj is a New York – based writer whose work has been pub­lished in the New York TimesRolling Stone, the Wash­ing­ton Post, and many oth­er nation­al and inter­na­tion­al pub­li­ca­tions. Born to Colom­bian par­ents in Ger­many, where he stud­ied lit­er­a­ture and lin­guis­tics, Voloj moved to New York in 2004. His fas­ci­na­tion for for­got­ten heroes and hid­den fig­ures stems from his own fam­i­ly his­to­ry and has been a leit­mo­tif in his non­fic­tion graph­ic novels.