July 18, 2019

Where Are the Great Jewish Graphic Novels?

“Four decades after Art Spiegelman began publishing a comic-strip serial about the Holocaust, later released in book form as Maus, the exploration of serious subjects by means of cartoon panels and word balloons no longer has the capacity to surprise. Still, a 350-page graphic novel dealing with Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the foundational figure of modern political Zionism, is hardly an everyday sight. And yet there it is, not only in its original French—Herzl: une histoire européenne—but now also in a Hebrew edition.

The book is the creation of Camille de Toledo, a French writer claiming paternal descent from Spanish Jews, and the Russian-born illustrator Alexander Pavlenko. Hardly the first comic-book meditation on Jewish history and identity, it joins the work of the French illustrator Joann Sfar and occupies a place on a growing shelf of first-person American Jewish chronicles of unhappy childhoods, first trips to Israel, and the like. But it is the first extended treatment in this form of a major Jewish historical figure, or of the nature of the Zionist project. The pity is that—for reasons worth exploring—it is an egregiously poor one.

De Toledo and Pavlenko recount much of the basic biography of their subject while inventing or imagining a few details, including a visit to a brothel by Herzl in the company of his fellow Viennese Jewish playwright Arthur Schnitzler. Strangely, though, the biography is mostly confined to the last third of the book, in which both Herzl and Zionism are seen through the eyes of a meek Jewish photographer named Ilia Brodsky—an obvious stand-in for de Toledo—whose own story forms the book’s narrative framework.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"The likely successor to British Prime Minister Theresa May, Boris Johnson, has plans to subsume the government department overseeing development aid into the foreign office, effectively eliminating it. That will destroy a post-Brexit United..."

"Gerard Baker, editor-at-large at the Wall Street Journal (no reflexively anti-Trump publication) recently wrote a piece decrying Donald Trump and his foreign policy as a fount of erratic unpredictability. This essay will give the counter view...."

"On Wednesday, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar announced that she will be visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories in the coming weeks. Omar will be accompanied by Rep. Rashida Tlaib. The two freshman congresswomen have become a focal point of..."

"Netflix may have lost US subscribers for the first time since it began making its own shows, but that didn't stop the streaming giant from dropping new figures about how many people are sucked into its Adam Sandler vortex. (Spoiler: More than..."

"A few years ago, Amy Balliett, CEO of a Seattle-based design and marketing firm, noticed that as the work week slogged on, her employees’ energy and productivity wilted. “That would slump to such an extent that the same task on Monday would..."

"Over the last few days the #faceappchallenge has taken over social media. This “challenge” involves downloading a selfie-editing tool called FaceApp and using one of its filters to digitally age your face. You then post the photo of your wizened..."

"Although there are plenty of irrational aspects to life in modern America, few rival the odd fixation on lawns. Fertilizing, mowing, watering — these are all-American activities that, on their face, seem reasonable enough. But to spend hundreds..."

"Can a book change the way we think? I don’t mean that in the sense of a reader’s opinion or ideology shifting—of course the right literary work can do that. But can a book rewire the brain itself, literally changing the way one particular mind..."

"It’s our job to let kids know we see and hear them, but we’re not necessarily going to solve siblings’ conflicts for them (or else they never get the practice). When squabbles start, imagine you’re a sportscaster and describe what you see in..."

"Magali Trejo-Martinez, a 22-year-old living in Salem, Oregon, recently went on a date that was rather uninspiring. “I had dinner, had a couple margaritas, and then went home,” is how she recapped the evening. This outcome wasn’t entirely..."

"The first lunar landing was many things — a D-Day-like feat of planning and logistics, a testament to the power of man's will, an ostensible propaganda coup for NATO. It was also, I think, one of the most misunderstood events in the history of..."

"THE FIRST TIME Bernie Sanders ran for president, he didn’t talk much about being Jewish. In fact, he didn’t talk much about himself at all. His 2016 primary campaign, like his whole political career, was relentlessly focused on one topic: income..."