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Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I'd like to begin with an adaptation of a section from Mishle (Proverbs) : 

"Proverbs 31: 10-30" (1998), Proverbs and Parables, p. 31-32. Adapted & Illustrated by Kathleen Webb. © New Creation Publications

The cartoonist Kathleen Webb told me in an e-mail that she wanted to represent women from all over the world. My own interpretation is that the adaptation shows Jewish women from all over the world.
My personal comix collection is not comprehensive & I've tried to select examples which are the best looking & most interesting. Most of the examples will be from American comic books published in the last 40 years and I've excluded Israeli characters, as I covered that in my last presentation.
Since I'm a librarian, not a historian, I don't feel qualified to distinguish between cause, effect, and coincidence. Nonetheless, I think it's important to note 7 historical trends which took place between 1940 and the present. Comic strip syndication has survived throughout the decades, while the comic book industry rose, fell, then rose again. While the huge comic companies have dominated, alternative & independent comic companies have expanded the marketplace, while book publishers have provided competition with their own graphic novels and webcomics have blossomed on the Internet. Second wave feminism brought about changes in the workplace. Specifically, women advanced to higher positions. For example, Ellen Frankel became editor-in-chief & CEO of the Jewish Publication Society, while Karen Berger became Senior VP / Executive Editor of the Vertigo line of DC Comics and Jenette Kahn became Publisher then President / Editor-in-Chief of DC Comics. Women also assumed greater leadership roles & participated more actively in synagogue life. Sally Preisand became the first American female rabbi. The "Jewish mother" stereotype came into being, popularized by works such as Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. The "Jewish American Princess" stereotype was also circulated with the help of books like Herman Wouk's Marjorie Morningstar. Women's publishers such as Feminist Press in the US and Second Story Press in Canada provided an outlet for books about women & books discussing feminist issues. Comics such as It Ain't Me Babe and Wimmen's Comix gave voice to female cartoonists

It Ain't Me Babe, 1970. Cover 
illustrated by Trina Robbins

Wimmen's Comix #1 [Nov.] 1972
Cover illustrated by Patricia Moodian
© Last Gasp
Ms. Magazine, Hadassah, & Lilith were founded in the 1970s & continue to be published. Academics & writers in different disciplines researched the content of comic books & strips. Generally speaking, studies have found that overall, women characters in comics are victimized, brutalized, and sexualized to a greater degree and with greater frequency than male characters. Given that generalization, it might seem surprising that the oldest continuously-published female comic book character - Wonder Woman - graced the cover of the premiere issue of Ms. Magazine and then reappeared on the cover 35 years later. 

Ms. Magazine #1 Juy 1972. Cover illustrated by Murphy Anderson. 
© Ms.Foundation.
Or that the cover story of the 2nd issue of Lilith was a 2-page history of the Triangle Fire in comix format.

Cover of Lilith Magazine #2 (1980). Illustrated by Trina Robbins. © Lilith Magazine

Or that the cover of an issue of Hadassah showed a modestly-attired superhero named Shabbos Queen.

© & ™2011 Alan Oirich


The Jewish women in the 1940s comics were primarily in adaptations. Rebecca, daughter of Isaac the Jew – a character inspired by Rebecca Gratz – appeared in 2 adaptations of Ivanhoe, where she helped the wounded hero and was, in turn, saved by him.

"Ivanhoe" Classic Comics #2  (1941), p. 23. Story by Waler Scott. Art by Malcolm Kildale. © Gilberton

"Ivanhoe" Classics Illustrated #2 (1947), p. 14. Story by Waler Scott. Art by Norman Nodel. Reprinted 1997 by Acclaim (NY). © Gilberton

Bible stories of that period were typically short, such as the 7-page story of Deborah and Yael

"The Story of Deborah" Picture Stories from the Bible #3 (Spring 1943),
6th story, page 7. Story by Montgomery Mulford. Art by 
Don Cameron. © Bloch

or the 4-page story of Ruth.

"The Story of Ruth" Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact v.4 #1
September 7, 1948, 6th story, page 3. Art by Lloyd 
Ostendorf. © George A. Pflaum

An exception was the 47-page Life of Esther Visualized adapted by Dorothy Fay Foster. The higher-quality artwork and lack of word balloons or captions gave the comic the feel of a picture book. 

Life of Esther VisualiZed (1947), p. 27. Adapted by Dorothy Fay Foster. Art by Anthony Abruzzo. © Standard Publishing Company

There was also a comic strip adaptation in The New York Post of the television show The Goldbergs.


In the 1950s, 2 more Queen Esther stories appeared, 

"Esther" Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact v.9 #18 
May 6, 1954, 4th story, p. 3. Artist unknown. 
© George A. Pflaum.

"Queen Esther" Bible Tales For Young People #5 (March 1954), p. 4. Art by Mort Lawrence. © Atlas

as well as an Ivanhoe comic based on the film with Elizabeth Taylor. 

"Ivanhoe" Fawcett Movie Comic #20 (Dec. 1952), p. 12. Story by Waler Scott. Artist Unknown. ©  Fawcett

One of the genres introduced in the 50s was the romance comic, with stories in which the characters were usually nonethnic whites with no religion specified.  However, in the story “Different” written by Jack Kirby & Joe Simon – both Jewish – the female protagonist & her family were shunned because they were different from the townspeople. 

"Different" Young Romance # 30 (Feb. 1951), p. 11. Story by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby. Art by Jack Kirby. © DC Comics

Just how they were different is never clarified. The family name was changed from Wilheim to Williams, suggesting that they were Germans, But there’s also a reference to the way “their kind” do business & a quip about horns on their heads. Even if the fictional family was not meant to be Jewish, it’s reasonable to assume that the story was written because Simon & Kirby were supportive of interfaith relationships.


In the 1960s, there came another Ivanhoe adaptation

"Ivanhoe" Ivanhoe #1 (July-Sept. 1963), p. 16. Art by John Lehti © Dell

and another Ruth story, the latter based on the film starring Elana Eden.

"The Story of Ruth" Four Color #1144 (Sep. 1960), p. 17. Adapted by Gaylord Du Bois. Art by Tom Gill. © Dell

World Over Magazine included 1-page, 12-panel stories about Jewish heroes & heroines. These included mini-bios of Rebecca Gratz, Henrietta Szold, and Hannah Senesh.

"Henrietta Szold" World Over Magazine, reprinted in Picture Parade of Jewish History edited by Morris Epstein  (1963), p. 105. Art by Maurice del Bourgo and F.L. Blake © Shengold Publishers

On the lighter side, Neville Spearman published a paperback of one-page gags illustrated by Sergio Aragones who would become better known for his work at Mad Magazine. Fanny Hillman : Memoirs of a Jewish Madam used sexual jokes and stereotypes including the  “Jewish mother” one.

Fanny Hillman : Memoirs of a Jewish Madam (1965), p. 22. Art by Sergio Aragones. © Neville Spearman

One of the first golem stories in comics also contained one of the earliest comic rebbetzin. Her role in the tale was to be the voice of reason & caution, urging Rabbi Loew not to build the golem ; alas, her advice is ignored.

"The Golem" Ripley's Believe It or Not #7 (Nov. 1967), p. 1. Art by Joe Certa. © Gold Key


In the 1970s, there were 3 more Ivanhoe adaptations. 

"Ivanhoe" King Classics #15 (1977), p. 5. Story by Walter Scott. Adapted by Dr. Marion Kimberly.Artist Unknown. © King Features

"Ivanhoe" Marvel Classics Comics #16 (1976), p. 35. Story by Walter Scott. Adapted by Doug Moench. Art by Jess Jodloman. © Marvel Comics

"Ivanhoe" Pocket Classics #C40 (1978), p. 32. Story by Walter Scott. Adapted by Naunerle Farr. Artist Unknown. © Academic

There was also an adaptation of the Shakespeare play The Merchant of Venice in which Jessica defied her father by secretly eloping with her Christian love Lorenzo. 

"The Merchant of Venice" Pocket Classics #S6 (1978?). Story by William Shakespeare. Adapted by Naunerle Farr. Art by Jun Lofamia. © Academic

Vampire Tales, mostly concerned with Dracula-type vampires, had a 1-page retelling of the Lilith legend. 

"Lilith : The First Vampire" Vampire Tales  #4 Apr. 1974. Text by Tony Isabella. 
Art by Ernie Chan. © Marvel Comics

A Superman backup story featured Clark Kent’s wealthy boss Morgan Edge and his mother. At first glance, she seems to be the embodiment of the negative Jewish mother stereotype – self-depreciating and guilt-inducing. However, she showed that she was proud – not ashamed – of working as a cleaning woman and that the reason for her making Morgan feel guilty was mainly his denial of his true Jewish identity. 

"My Son, The Orphan" Action Comics #468 (Feb. 1977), 2nd story, p. 2. Story by Martin Pasko. Art by Curt Swan & Frank McLaughlin. © DC Comics

Harvey Pekar told of how a Jewish senior was nice enough to offer to let him go ahead of her in line and who also tried to correct a cashier’s mistake in her favor. However, he did so by contrasting her with the typical “old Jewish ladies” who held up the lines in the supermarket, arguing with the cashier about prices or trying to get a special deal. 

"Standing Behind Old Jewish Ladies in Supermarket Lines" American Splendor #3 (1978), 2nd story, p. 1. Reprinted in American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar ; Bob & Harv's Comics ; and The Complete Crumb Comics #12. Story by Harvey Pekar. Art by Robert Crumb. © Harvey Pekar .                                       

Two comics presented Holocaust-era stories with women in the role of resistance fighters 

"Crossroads"Men of War #10 (Nov. 1978), 1st story p. 7-8. Story by Roger McKenzie. Art by Dick Ayers & Romeo Tanghal.© DC Comics

"The Tourists" Blitzkrieg #8 (July-Aug. 1976), 1st story, p. 4. Story by Robert Kanigher. Art by Ric Estrada. © DC Comics

and a horror comic showed a Holocaust survivor presenting testimony at a war crimes trial. 

"Gypsy Shade" House of Mystery #261 (Oct. 1978), 2nd story, p. 3. Story by Arnold Drake. Art by Jess Jodloman. © DC Comics

A Captain America story revealed that Steve Rogers’ landlady was a Holocaust survivor and she shared her story with him. 

"From the Ashes..." Captain America #237 (Sept. 1979), p. 22. Story by Chris Claremont & Roger McKenzie. Art by Sal Buscema &Don Perlin. © Marvel Comics

A Contract with God, considered to be the first Jewish graphic novel, consists of 4 stories, 3 of them with significant Jewish women. In the title story, the  life of a young girl – who was being raised by a Hasidic immigrant – was cut short, causing Frimme to question his faith. 

"A Contract with God" A Contract with God and other Tenement Stories (1978), 1st story, p. 24-25. Story & art by Will Eisner. © Baronet

In “The Street Singer”, Sylvia Speegel – a has-been diva – discovered a young talent and hoped for a comeback with him. 
“Cookalein” has Fanny (who carefully saves up money so that she can afford to take her kids to a resort) and Goldie (who goes there pretending to be well-off, hoping to attract a wealthy suitor). 

Aline Komisky-Crumb’s autobiographical comic didn’t shy away from negative characterizations, showing her mother as overly materialistic and claiming that her grandmother never cared about her father. Yet she also showed herself as a high-achieving student, her mother as a successful sales rep, and her grandmother as seemingly hysterical at her father’s funeral. 

"Blabette 'n Arnie" The Bunch's Power Pak Comics #1 (Sep. 1979), 2nd story, p. 15. Story and art by Aline Kominsky-Crumb. 
© Kitchen Sink

In “Die Bubbeh”, Sharon Rudahl briefly told the story of her grandmother, who was secretly taught how to read in 3 languages, who unsuccessfully tried to hide a rabbi’s radical son from the police, and who sold her valuables in order to ease the family’s escape from their shtetl after a pogrom.

"Die Bubbeh" Wimmen's Comix #5 (June 1975), 10th story, p. 2. Story & art by Sharon Rudahl. © Last Gasp


The 1980s brought Kitty Pryde, arguably the most popular Jewish superhero in the history of comics. Although little is mentioned of her Jewish identity in the stories, she is almost always shown wearing her Magen David necklace. The necklace even saved her life when she was attacked by Dracula

"Night Screams"The Uncanny X-Men #159 (July 1982), p. 12. Story by Chris Claremont. Art by Bill Sienkiewicz & Bob Wiacek. © Marvel Comics

The futuristic series Hex had a story with a Batman whose mother was Miriam Cohen, an American rabbi who advocated for gun control. 

"Night of the Bat" Hex #11 (July 1986), p. 13.  Story by Michael Fleisher. Art by Mark Texeira, Carlos Garzon, & Pablo Marcos. © DC Comics

One of the minor subplots of a Spider-Man story involved African-American Randy Robertson’s marriage to Amanda Batavides – a white Jew who eventually divorced him. 

"Dinner Hour" The Spectacular Spider-Man #117 (Aug. 1986), p. 19-20. Story by Peter David. Art by Rich Buckler, Dwayne Turner, Bob McLeod, Del Barras, Brett Breeding, & Joe Rubinstein. © Marvel Comics

In Captain America, the Red Skull told his life story to his enemies. When he was a youth during the Nazi era, he’d fallen in love with a Jewish girl who spurned him & whom he later killed. 

"Sturm Und Drang: The Life and Times of the Red Skull" Captain America #298 (Oct. 1984). Story by J.M. DeMatteis. Art by Paul Neary & Roy Richardson.  © Marvel Comics

Aline Kominsky-Crumb mined her past again, showing how she had low self-esteem and self-image, yet still tried to be protective of her sensitive brother. 

"Growing Up Arnie's Girl" Weirdo #26 (Fall 1989), 8th story, p. 5.  Story & art by Aline Kominsky-Crumb. © Last Gasp Eco-Funnies

The money-obsessed JAP stereotype was used in Marnin Rosenberg’s dating rant in National Lampoon, 

"Marnin Rosenbrg in 'Bad Luck with Women' " National Lampoon (June 1987), p. 2. Story by Josh Alan Friedman. Art by Drew Friedman. © Drew Friedman

while the graphic novel Greenberg the Vampire presented an example of the guilt-inducing Jewish mother. Greenberg also showed Oscar’s mother as a heroic figure, trying to rescue him from the clutches of evil Jewish female Lilith, mother of all vampires. 

"Greenberg the Vampire" Marvel Graphic Novel #20 (1986), p. 47. Story  by J.M. DeMatteis. Art by Mark Badger. © Marvel Comics

In Will Eisner’s A Life Force, there is a rare Jewish scene of a Jewish wife preparing for Shabbos, 

A Life Force (1988), p. 13. Story and Art by Will Eisner. © Kitchen Sink

as well as the reappearance of a character’s old flame who needs his help immigrating as a refugee. Though she still harbored feelings for him, her life had moved on & she wanted his to, as well. 

One of the evangelical Chick tracts published in the 80s – Miss Universe – adapted the story of Queen Esther

Miss Universe (1987). Adaptation by Jack Chick. Art by Fred Carter.  © Chick Publications

British publisher Knockabout published an anthology of short Biblically-based stories titled Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament. As the title suggests, these stories – which featured Yael, Yeftah’s daughter, the Levite’s unnamed concubine & proverbs from The Wisdom of Ben Sirah – emphasized the sensational sexual & violent parts of the tales. 

"Jephthah And His Daughter" Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament (1987), 7th story, p. 31. Adapted by Neil Gaiman. Art by Pete Rigg © Knockabout 

Several 80s comic stories took place during the Holocaust or had Holocaust flashback scenes. All-Star Squadron had a woman explain the death camp to a just-captured POW. 

"Ring of Fire... Ring of Fear!" All-Star Squadron #9 (May 1982), p. 9. Story by Roy Thomas & Gerry Conway. Art by Adrian Gonzales & Jerry Ordway. © DC Comics

Uncanny X-Men used surreal imagery to represent a survivor’s traumatic memories of what she experienced in a camp. 

"Gold Rush!" The Uncanny X-Men #161 (Sep. 1982), p. 8. Story by Chris Claremont. Art by Dave Cockrum & Bob Wiacek. © Marvel Comics

Supergirl’s landlady – a survivor – shared her story & learned that her daughter also survived, but became a super-powered anti-Semite. 

"Echoes of Times Gone By" Supergirl #13 (Nov. 1983), p. 6. Story by Paul Kupperberg. Art by Carmine Infantino & Bob Oksner. © DC Comics

Captain America’s landlady was given a chance to take her revenge on a Nazi war criminal. In the end, he was killed by another woman – the daughter of a prominent Nazi hunter. 

"The Calypso Connection!" Captain America #245, p. 30. Story by Roger McKenzie. Art by Carmine Infantino & Joe Rubinstein.  © Marvel Comics 

Art Spiegelman’s award-winning memoir Maus told the story of what happened to both of his parents. However the narrative was biased in that it was drawn by Art & based only on the oral testimony of his father Vladek. His mother, Anja, committed suicide before Art began work on the book & her journals were destroyed by Vladek. 

Maus : A Survivor's Tales (1986), p. Story & Art by Art Spiegelman. © Pantheon

An Uncanny X-Men story showed Kitty at a survivors’ gathering in Washington, trying to learn the fate of her great aunt Chava who disappeared during the Holocaust. 

"The Spiral Path" The Uncanny X-Men #199 (Nov. 1985). Story by Chris Claremont. Art by John Romita, Jr. and Dan Green. © Marvel Comics

In an Outsiders story, a Hitler clone learned about the man he was cloned from, realized that his servant was a Jew, and committed suicide.

"Sympathy for the Fuhrer" The Adventures of the Outsiders #35 (July 1986). Story by Mike W. Barr. Art by Alan David & Paul Neary. © DC Comics