Did you know that Jews created the American comic book industry as we know it? From Action Comics #1 to Maus, the contributions of Jewish graphic novelists and comic book artists are too big to be ignored.
Max Ginzberg and Harry L. Wildenberg released the first comic book in 1934, consisting of comic strip reprints from newspapers. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster came up with Superman, and Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America. Stanley Martin Lieber, famously known as Stan Lee, started Marvel Comics, which is home to the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man, Deadpool, and the Avengers.
From comic books came graphic novels. In 1978, Will Eisner made graphic novels popular with his work, “A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories.” The book follows characters in a New York City tenement house as they go about their everyday lives.
“Maus,” another groundbreaking Jewish graphic novel, was about cartoonist Art Spiegelman’s parents’ experience during and after the Holocaust. Serialized in the 1980s and ‘90s, it portrayed the Jews as mice and the Germans as cats.
Then there was Harvey Pekar, the subject of the film “American Splendor” starring Paul Giamatti, who created a comic book series of the same name. His novels depict his life in Cleveland, focusing on his job as a file clerk at a veterans’ hospital to his marriage and everything in between. Pekar, a loveable grump, wrote the comics and hired different illustrators, including the legendary Robert Crumb, to draw.
Another noteworthy graphic novelist, and a female one, is Miriam Libicki. In 2016, Libicki printed “Toward a Hot Jew.” The book contains graphic essays about her experiences as an American-Israeli Jew.
While an impressive number of graphic novelists have been Jewish, perhaps the most famous today is Daniel Clowes. His works “Ghost World,” “Wilson,” and “Art School Confidential” have been made into major motion pictures. Clowes has become known for his dark and sarcastic work and quirky characters.
Today, the art of the Jewish graphic novel lives on in the works of many, including writer Jordan B. Gorfinkel. Gorfinkel published the “Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel” in 2019 and worked for DC Comics, co-creating “Birds of Prey.” “Birds of Prey” will be released as a film in 2020 starring Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.
When getting into Jewish graphic novels, start with works by Eisner, Pekar, Spiegelman, Gorfinkel, Libicki and Clowes. As you go deeper into the exciting world of comic books and graphic novels, you’re sure to find many more Jewish works worth reading.