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The Quest for Jewish Belief and Identity in the Graphic Novel

Stephen E. Tabachnick

Publication Year: 2014

Many Jewish artists and writers contributed to the creation of popular comics and graphic novels, and in The Quest for Jewish Belief and Identity in the Graphic Novel, Stephen E. Tabachnick takes readers on an engaging tour of graphic novels that explore themes of Jewish identity and belief.

The creators of Superman (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), Batman (Bob Kane and Bill Finger), and the Marvel superheroes (Stan Lee and Jack Kirby), were Jewish, as was the founding editor of Mad magazine (Harvey Kurtzman). They often adapted Jewish folktales (like the Golem) or religious stories (such as the origin of Moses) for their comics, depicting characters wrestling with supernatural people and events. Likewise, some of the most significant graphic novels by Jews or about Jewish subject matter deal with questions of religious belief and Jewish identity. Their characters wrestle with belief—or nonbelief—in God, as well as with their own relationship to the Jews, the historical role of the Jewish people, the politics of Israel, and other issues related to Jewish identity.

In The Quest for Jewish Belief and Identity in the Graphic Novel, Stephen E. Tabachnick delves into the vivid kaleidoscope of Jewish beliefs and identities, ranging from Orthodox belief to complete atheism, and a spectrum of feelings about identification with other Jews. He explores graphic novels at the highest echelon of the genre by more than thirty artists and writers, among them Harvey Pekar (American Splendor), Will Eisner (A Contract with God), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), Miriam Katin (We Are On Our Own), Art Spiegelman (Maus), J. T. Waldman (Megillat Esther), Aline Kominsky Crumb (Need More Love), James Sturm (The Golem’s Mighty Swing), Leela Corman (Unterzakhn), Ari Folman and David Polonsky (Waltz with Bashir), David Mairowitz and Robert Crumb’s biography of Kafka, and many more. He also examines the work of a select few non-Jewish artists, such as Robert Crumb and Basil Wolverton, both of whom have created graphic adaptations of parts of the Hebrew Bible.

Among the topics he discusses are graphic novel adaptations of the Bible; the Holocaust graphic novel; graphic novels about the Jews in Eastern and Western Europe and Africa, and the American Jewish immigrant experience; graphic novels about the lives of Jewish women; the Israel-centered graphic novel; and the Orthodox graphic novel. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography.

No study of Jewish literature and art today can be complete without a survey of the graphic novel, and scholars, students, and graphic novel fans alike will delight in Tabachnick’s guide to this world of thought, sensibility, and artfulness.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Series: Judaic Studies Series


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Title Page, About the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. 1-6

One of the most exciting literary and artistic developments of the past forty years is the emergence of the graphic, or comic book, novel. An extended comic book that expands the possibilities of the traditional comic book and that is unconstrained by the cheap production values and severely limited...

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1. Adaptations of the Bible

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pp. 7-24

Several graphic novels have recently appeared as adaptations of one of the earliest Jewish literary works, and certainly one of the most influential: the Hebrew Bible. Since the Bible has become a universal work, I have included non-Jewish as well as Jewish adaptors in this chapter because they present...

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2. Religion and Identity in Art Spiegelman’s Maus

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pp. 25-38

Art Spiegelman is at the forefront of contemporary graphic novelists. He is critically renowned for such work as his avant-garde journal Raw, edited with his wife, Françoise Mouly (who is also a graphic novelist and the art director of the New Yorker), his cartoons for the New Yorker, and his...

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3. The Holocaust Graphic Novel

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pp. 39-81

While Art Spiegelman’s Maus raises many questions about the religious and other dimensions of the Holocaust, more issues remain. The Holocaust (or in Hebrew, the Shoah, which means “catastrophe”) is fraught with unresolvable questions about how this tragedy can or should be remembered in artistic works. Given its enormity, with six million Jews and many, many other...

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4. The Jewish Experience in Europe and Beyond

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pp. 82-117

Graphic novels dealing with the Jewish experience in Europe before and after the Holocaust and in North Africa form the material for this chapter. Vittorio Giardino, an Italian, Joann Sfar, a Frenchman, and American James Sturm have created significant graphic novels about that experience, including elements...

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5. The American Immigrant Experience

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pp. 118-156

Since many of the most important Jewish graphic novelists are the children of immigrants, the theme of Jews as immigrants to the United States has understandably featured heavily in much of their work. Whether set in New York or Cleveland, the idea of Jews having to find their way into American...

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6. Some Female American Jewish Creators

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pp. 157-185

Sharon Rudahl is the creator of, among many other works, A Dangerous Woman, a graphic biography of Emma Goldman, a famous and indeed notorious Russian Jewish immigrant to America who lived during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Rudahl’s biography, which is based...

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7. Identity and Belief in the Israel-Centered Graphic Novel

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pp. 186-216

Rutu Modan’s Exit Wounds, Etgar Keret and Asaf Hanuka’s Pizzeria Kamikaze, Ari Folman and David Polonsky’s Waltz with Bashir, and Galit and Gilad Seliktar’s Farm 54 all deal with Israelis’ perceptions of the contemporary world—what they believe and what kind of country they have...

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8. The Orthodox Graphic Novel

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pp. 217-230

Unlike most of the other graphic novels discussed in this book, which usually stress identity at the expense of religion, the best graphic novels about Orthodoxy reinforce belief. Although it was created by a self-avowed secular artist, Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, by Barry Deutsch, gives a positive...


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pp. 231-236

Works Cited

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pp. 237-246


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pp. 247-258

E-ISBN-13: 9780817387440
E-ISBN-10: 0817387447
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817318215
Print-ISBN-10: 0817318216

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 39 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Judaic Studies Series
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 879551039
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Quest for Jewish Belief and Identity in the Graphic Novel

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Subject Headings

  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945), in literature.
  • Jews in literature.
  • Graphic novels.
  • Judaism and literature.
  • Comic books, strips, etc. -- Religious aspects.
  • Jewish literature -- History and criticism.
  • Jews -- Identity.
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