From Krakow to Krypton
Jews and Comic Books
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: Jewish Publication Society
Table of Contents
A curious topic. One wouldn’t group the two subjects together as readily as, say, Jews and comedy or African Americans and hip-hop. But there it is. Those in the know realize that Jews almost single-handedly built the comic-book industry from the ground up. And I should know. For the past five years, I’ve immersed myself in this topic....
Part One: The Golden Age: (1933–1955) The Birth of the Comics
Chapter 1: Famous Funnies
In 1933, the world went through seismic changes in the dual worlds of politics and pop culture. On the one hand, FDR was inaugurated and Hitler became chancellor of Germany. On the other hand, television was patented. And perhaps most unassumingly during this banner year, ...
Chapter 2: Leger and Reuths
By 1935, the former pulp magazine writer Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, the publisher of the fledgling National Allied Publications (soon to be known as National Periodicals, then Detective Comics Inc., and then simply DC Comics), had already begun a search for original strips to feature in his comic books. He lacked the funds to reprint newspaper strips, and therefore DC was the first publisher ...
Chapter 3: Supergolem
Conceived by Siegel and Shuster while they were still in high school, Superman was the first comic-book character to successfully cross over into other media. The 1942 George Lowther book The Adventures of Superman , illustrated by Joe Shuster and his Cleveland studio, marked the first time a comic-book character was the protagonist of a novel. And Harold Prince’s 1966 musical It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman...
Chapter 4: Attack of the Clones
In 1939, Superman, the first comic-book superhero, also became the first comic book character to have a title named after him. Before this, comic books bore titles like More Fun Comics, Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Detective Comics, and so on. These rather generic-sounding designations were purposefully vague, because ...
Chapter 5: People of the (Comic) Book
Let's backtrack a little bit. In 1939, when Superman’s success was still brand spanking new (and inspiring spanking new brands of licensed products), Max Gaines, the man credited with bringing the Man of Steel to DC, started his own comic-book company, All-American Comics. He named the publishing firm after his flagship title, All-American Comics, whose various features included the adventures of the Green Lantern ...
Chapter 6: The Spirit of the Times
One of the few Jewish comic-book creators who didn’t change his name was Will Eisner. And from 1937 to 1940, while DC was steadily climbing the comic-book publishing ladder, the Eisner & Iger Studio created superheroes like Black Condor and Uncle Sam for publishers like Quality Comics and Fiction House. This sort of work was second nature ...
Chapter 7: The Leaden Age
The Golden Age of comics is so called because this was when the language of comic books was formed, when they first started to differentiate themselves—in style and content—from newspaper strips. From roughly 1938 to 1952, writers, cartoonists, and editors experimented with the very idea of how page layout, camera angles, and characterization, storytelling, and iconography could most effectively be employed ...
Chapter 8: Why We Fight
From 1938 to 1941, comic books were certainly a growth industry, a fledgling branch of the American media with a significant hold on the nation’s youth. It was only after America entered World War II, however, that sales skyrocketed. With the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor and Hitler massacring Jews overseas, it suddenly became impossible ...
Chapter 9: New Trends and Innocent Seducers
Comic books reigned supreme among the new mass market media of the 1940s. For sheer entertainment value, they had almost every other media outlet beat. Unlike radio, comic books could actually show the action being described by the narrator. Unlike theater, comic books could ...
Part Two: The Silver Age: (1956–1978) The Growth and Development of Jewish Comics
Chapter 10: Super Family Values
With the end of the Golden Age of comic books, the industry was in need of a creative tuneup. After the 1954 Senate Hearings, comic books were equated with illiteracy and delinquency, and sales took a severe beating. And thanks to the newly created Comics Code Authority, by 1956 ...
Chapter 11: Broome Makes a Clean Sweep
Julius “Julie” Schwartz was, like Mort Weisinger, a former pen pal of Jerry Siegel. As a teenager in New York, Schwartz was good friends with Weisinger; the two science-fiction nuts started up the fanzine The Time Traveller in the early 1930s with their friends Forrest J. Ackerman and Alan Glasser. Schwartz and Weisinger even served as gossip columnists for ...
Chapter 12: Stan and Jack
By 1961, Stan Lee had reached a career crossroads as the chief writer/editor of Martin Goodman’s comic-book company. The Goodman line had had success with a trio of superheroes back during World War II—Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch—but World War II was in the past, and so were the company’s salad days. By 1957, ...
Chapter 13: The Superhero from Queens
...And this is how you write Peter Parker. Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, was another Stan Lee co-creation who quickly climbed the web of great comic-book superheroes to become Marvel’s flagship character. Introduced in 1962 in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15 and created by Lee and the artist Steve Ditko, Spider-Man ...
Chapter 14: Courting the College Crowd
Stan Lee's Marvel Comics of the 1960s were also distinct because they were written for a wider audience demographic than most comic books. During World War II, GIs sometimes read comics as an escapist reminder of life back home, but now for the first time comic books went out of their way to court high school and college students as well as young kids. Teenagers racked with adolescent neuroses and identity issues identified ...
Chapter 15: Outsider Heroes
In September of 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the X-Men, a group of men and women who are born with a mutant gene that gives them each a different superpower. The X-Men would become Marvel’s most potent metaphor for the human condition. Lee maintains that the inspiration for the mutants came from ...
Chapter 16: Openly Jewish, Openly Heroic
Chris Claremont was born in London in 1950, but he grew up in the United States nourished by the uniquely American tales of heroism and villainy only the U.S. comic-book industry could provide. Starting in January 1969, Claremont spent a few months as a gofer at Marvel Comics. Directly after his stint there, he went on a trip to Israel to live ...
Chapter 17: Kirby’s Fourth World
In 1970, Jack Kirby caused shockwaves throughout the comic-book industry by leaving Marvel Comics, also known as the House of Ideas (a house he helped build), and defecting to the rival DC Comics. The reasons for the veteran comics creator’s exodus from Marvel are complex and well documented. Simply put, he felt unappreciated and believed ...
Chapter 18: Notes from the Underground
During the 1960s and early 1970s, while superhero comics were undergoing a revolution in terms of character development—the friendly champions of the Golden Age giving way to the brooding warriors of the Silver Age—the burgeoning hippie counterculture was beginning to produce its own comic art. Austin, Texas, was the birthplace of this new underground comics movement. In 1962, the Texan cartoonist Frank Stack self-published The Adventures of Jesus ...
Chapter 19: From Novel Graphics to Graphic Novels
A book like Harvey Pekar’s The Quitter wouldn’t have been possible without Will Eisner, the legendary writer/cartoonist who had just begun to publish his own graphic novels two years after American Splendor debuted. In 1978, Eisner broke new ground in the comics industry with his publication of the pioneering graphic novel A Contract with God (originally published by Baronet Books). A strange chain of events ...
Part Three: The Bronze Age: (1979–the Present) Comics in the Modern World
Chapter 20: From Comix to Graphix
Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, alternative newspapers like The Berkeley Barb and underground comix anthologies like Arcade were an excellent forum for politically themed comic strips. However, as the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, most undergrounds had shuttered their doors and overtly political newsweeklies were few and far between. In 1979, ...
Chapter 21: The Maus That Art Built
Art Spiegelman’s single greatest achievement in RAW was publishing his refined and reworked version of Maus, which had come far since its early days as a three-page strip in Funny Aminals. Spiegelman utilized the cartooning convention of anthropomorphized animals—Jews were depicted as mice, Poles as pigs, Americans as dogs, and Nazis as cats—in telling the story of his father’s Holocaust experience. “In doing that three-page strip,” Spiegelman remembered, ...
Chapter 22: A Graphic Approach to Jewish History
There was one artist who was using the graphic novel as a vehicle to tell Jewish stories long before Spiegelman published Maus. That artist was Spiegelman’s mentor Will Eisner. As any serious comics collector knows, 1978’s A Contract with God and 1991’s To the Heart of the Storm are far from Eisner’s only graphic novels to feature ...
Chapter 23: The Martian Jew
What was in the 1970s a trickle of openly Jewish superhumans—like Chris Claremont’s X-Men character Kitty Pryde, or Seraph, the Israeli member of the DC supergroup the Global Guardians—became a veritable flood in the ’80s and ’90s. Among this new generation of explicitly Jewish characters was Reuben Flagg, the protagonist of the artist/writer Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg (originally published by First Comics), ...
Chapter 24: Children of the Atom … And Eve
As hard as Marvel and DC have worked to integrate Jewish characters into their respective comics, they don’t hold a monopoly on Jewish superheroes. Independent (aka “indie”) comics companies have also developed Semitic crimefighters. In December 1991, seven popular Marvel artists ...
Chapter 25: Vertigo Visions
Thanks to works like American Splendor and Maus, as well as writers like Paul Levitz and Howard Chaykin, explicit Jewish references in comic books are now the norm. But not all the Jewish writers in comics have come from America. Neil Gaiman was born to Jewish parents in Portchester, England ...
Chapter 26: Up, Up, And Away… But Where To?
How very far we’ve come. The emergence of Jewish characters in comic books has mirrored American Jewry’s own struggle for acceptance in a non- Jewish world. In the Golden Age, an era of prejudice and quotas, writers and cartoonists intent on creating simple children’s entertainment hid subtle Jewish metaphors behind assimilated archetypes. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster ...
Comics History Timeline
Publication Year: 2008
OCLC Number: 851581877
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