Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Comically Jewish

Did you know that comic books were created by Jews? Yes, they were.
When I attended the 8th Annual Comics Convention in Tel Aviv,, last week with my daughter, we attended a lecture on the Jewish history of comics. Comic books and cartoons began as a Jewish industry. In fact, a very large number of comic artists are Jewish - - including Al Capp, cartoonist (Li'l Abner), Will Elder, cartoonist (MAD Magazine), Al Feldstein, cartoonist (MAD Magazine), Max Fleischer, animator (Popeye, Betty Boop), Friz Freleng, animator (Looney Tunes), William Gaines, comics artist and MAD founder,Al Jaffee, cartoonist (MAD Magazine),
Bob Kane, comics artist (Batman), Gil Kane, comics artist (Green Lantern), Jack Kirby, comics artist (Captain America, Hulk), Stan Lee, comics writer (co-creator of Spider-Man, creator of X-Men, The Hulk, Fantastic Four), Joe Shuster, comics artist (Superman), Jerome Siegel, comics artist (Superman), Joe Simon, comics artist (Captain America), Art Spiegelman, comics writer (Maus) and more more more.

A Jewish Trade
The comic book industry started, according to our lecturer, because newspapers in America, which rain daily strips, did not want to hire Jewish artists. Well, if they couldn't work for someone else, they'd work for themselves.
Thus was born the first comic book, All-American Publications, began by second generation Jewish Polish immigrants. All-American began with Wonderwoman, Flash and members of the All-American Justice League. (DC later bought All-American.)
DC hired the comic artists who couldn't get jobs in the regular "strips", because they were Jewish.
Joe Shuster and Jerome Siegel of Superman fame, actually began their comic book careers with Dr. Occult, a guy who looked a lot like Humphrey Bogart, but who dealt in the realm of demons and the unknown. Actually it was a very known world for these two former yeshiva boys. It was the world of the kabbalah.
When S&S wanted to pitch Superman, they went to the Jewish head of DC Comics, who gave them a chance. (I actually wanted to buy a compilation of the first five issues of Superman comics from 1938, but it cost 75 NIS - 75 NIS, can you believe it!!) In 1938, as the Nazi leader Adolph Hitler, yemach shmo, was bringing the entire German army under his command, wouldn't it have been nice to have a super hero who could destroy him? Shuster and Siegel thought so.
Another Jewish company, Timely Comics became Marvel Comics. And did you know that the first cover of Marvel Comics #1 had Captain America beating the tar out of Hitler?
Superman's Jewish Roots
It's interesting that Superman (who except for Micky Mouse) is the most recognizable American hero. And yet, he began with Biblical boots (see photo above), like the real hero upon whom he was based - mighty Samson the Judge. Like Samson, Superman was superstrong, He was impervious to bullets, but that's about it. He didn't fly then or have x-ray vision. He was a super super Samson. And like the Jews of the enlightenment, he was a Jew at home and a mentsch outside, meaning, in his own space, he was Superman, and outside, he was Clark Kent.
Also, lehavdil, just as Moses was found in a little ark by a foreign person, who would become his parent, so was Superman.
In 1956, as the survivors of the Holocaust were still finding their way to America to establish their new lives, another survivor was sent to America to be cared for by her American relatives - Supergirl.
Our lecturer went as far as saying that the Kryptonian city of Kandor, which was a city in a bottle, that Kryptonians like Superman or Supergirl could visit when they wished, was like Israel today.

Super Jews
We learned that there are actually super heroes who are Jewish: Magneto (a survivor of teh Shoah Holocaust - he actually lived near Haifa), the Shadow Cat of Xmen (his grandfather was in Auschwitz), The Thing of the Fantastic Four, Iceman and Green Lantern (who are half Jewish), and Sabra (a Marvel Mutant who is supposed to be like a Jewish Angolina Jolie).
That was the beginning of the comic industry. It included Jewish values and hopes for a better world. Unfortunately, the comic book industry has become very big business. Creators and writers have changed over the years, and more unfortunately, the industry has traded in its small town (or perhaps Smallville) wholesome attitudes for the glitz, skin and violence of the rest of the media world.


  1. Gee, you left out two of my favorites: Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman. Cheers!

  2. Great posting! As a Jew and a comic book fan it's nice to see other Jewish social forums delve into the connection between the iconic characters of the comic book industry and their place and origins in Jewish history.
    you may also be interested to know that there are more overtly Jewish comic book characters out there. From Marvel comes Sabra who is a Mossad super agent. And DC has a meta human group of Mossad agents known as the Hayoth.

  3. "Shadowcat" "His grandfather."

    Shadowcat is a GIRL.

    HER grandfather.