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JewCE Showcases Jews’ Impact on the Comic Book Industry

Jews invented Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, The Hulk, the Avengers and X-Men.
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October 25, 2023
Photo by John Halpern

Jews invented Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, The Hulk, the Avengers and X-Men. Aside from the mainstream, Jews have contributed heavily to the indie comic book scene as well.

Now, the Jewish community’s contributions to comics is on display at the Center for Jewish History in New York City. This collection showcases Jewish culture, history and artistic expression through comic books, giving visitors a chance to learn about this topic as well as draw their own comics. 

On November 12, the museum will hold a convention with workshops and an awards ceremony featuring the biggest Jewish comic book creators of today – including Israelis. Some of the creators were supposed to fly in from Israel for the event, but now that’s uncertain. Co-curator Roy Schwartz, author of “Is Superman Circumcised? The Complete Jewish History of the World’s Greatest Hero,” was raised in Tel Aviv and now lives in New York, said that due to rising antisemitism, the exhibit has gained new meaning.

The recent events in Israel and the global tidal wave of antisemitism that’s followed have made the topic of JewCE more relevant than ever. – Roy Schwartz

“The recent events in Israel and the global tidal wave of antisemitism that’s followed have made the topic of JewCE more relevant than ever. In the 1930s and 40s, when forces of hate and insanity marched across borders and Jews were butchered wholesale while the world proved indifferent or hostile, young American Jews turned their fear, fury, frustration and faith into superheroes. They created symbols of life, hope and brotherly love. These characters have resonated worldwide, and now that history is repeating itself is the right time to tell the story of their creators.”

Photo by Miriam Moira

The workshops at JewCE include the “Jewish Roots of the Comic Industry,” “Jewish Folklore in Comics” and “From Strength to Strength: Jewish Superheroes Through the Ages.” The convention is emphasizing the diversity of modern Jewish comic book creators through its panel, “Breaking the Mainstream: Getting Past Ashkenormativity and Secularism in Comics,” presented by Arnon Shorr, a creator and filmmaker formerly based in Los Angeles. 

“In the early days of the industry, characters were coded, perhaps Jewish if you knew what to look for, but otherwise not identifiable,” said Dr. Miriam Mora, who came up with the idea for JewCE. “Then they were statedly Jewish, introducing a character as Jewish or mentioning their Jewish ancestry, but maintaining a level of ashkenormativity that gave the false impression that Jews all looked or behaved as acculturated, secular/non-practicing, white-presenting, Ashkenazi Americans.  Now we are seeing content emerging with Sephardi characters, Mizrachi characters, African American Jews, Asian Jews, Orthodox characters, etc.  It’s a whole new world of Jewish comics.”

One L.A.-based comic book creator, panelist and JewCE awards nominee Daniel Lobell, discusses his observant Judaism and Sephardic background in his “Fair Enough” comics book series. 

“It’s so exciting that Jewish comic book creators are being honored in this way, and it’s so long overdue,” he said. “Jewish people invented the comic book industry. It’s nice to see us finally celebrating that.”

Barbara Mendes, an LA-based painter and comic book artist, will be displaying her “Vayikra Mural,” which illuminates each of 859 verses in the Book of Leviticus, at the JewCE event. She also created “Queen of Cosmos Comix” (Red 5 Comics) and will be speaking on the panel about translating Jewish texts into the comics medium.  

“I believe in and create narrative art in paintings and comics which illuminate and extol the beauty, strength and endurance of Jewish texts and Jewish life,” Mendes said. “Jewish Learning is oceanic. My paintings offer an invigorating swim into their heart. Jewish values are world-founding – my comics series plays with cosmic truths amid our own world.”

The chair of the JewCE awards committee, comic and graphic novel writer and editor Danny Fingeroth, believes that comic books are a powerful method to get across important ideas. 

“Words and pictures, when created by skilled, inspired people, are a potent way to convey ideas and stories that can be understood and appreciated by a wide variety of people,” he said. “The hope is that awards such as the JewCEs will recognize some gifted creators and simultaneously raise general awareness about the nominated and winning works and creators.”

As for Schwartz, he’s looking back at the original Jewish superheroes for some inspiration during these difficult times – and hoping others can do the same. 

“JewCE examines how we’re represented and how we represent ourselves in comics, and we hope helps empower creators, Jews and non-Jews alike, to include and positively portray Jewish life, in all its diversity,” he said. “We also hope it gives visitors pride in knowing that our culture gave birth to Superman, Captain America and most other superheroes. It’s important that we find that strength in ourselves now.”

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