The 8th Night of Wolkin is Looking Grimm

(This post is part of 8 Nights of Wolkin, my unnecessarily narcissistic semi-exploration of various incarnations of Jews and Judaism in comics, for better or for worse. It’s my way of celebrating Chanukah. That’s how I spell it. Do you have another way of spelling it? I don’t care.)

Ok, so look 5 for 8 ain’t bad, and you’d be blown away that I’ve gotten this much done if you had the slightest idea of the week that I’ve had. I hope you’ve enjoyed this; I know I have. And since I didn’t get all 8 posts done, I can tell you that I still have a lot of good stuff to come. It seems like I have more to say about Jews and comics than, I realized, so I’ll keep saying it, but I have zero desire to make that the primary focus of whatever it is that I do on this thing. Enough.

This is a short one, but a nice surprise at the end. There’s things to do.

The Thing #8, by Dan Slott and Kieron Dwyer. This book has a special place in my heart, and for this simple reason, I’m willing to overlook the things about the book that sort of annoy me in the vein of Judaic inaccuracies. And in the interest of time, I’m gonna skip the meat and potatoes of this thing, for the most part. However, it does include a Thing-hosted superhero poker game, where everyone is inexplicably in costume except for the Thing himself. Guess that’s like a hosting rule or something. Then there all these flashbacks of fights he had: Thing and Squirrel Girl take on the Bi-Beast.

That’s right, the Bi-Beast. An editor approved the creation of such nonsense. Hey, it was the 70′s!

Then he fights the Impossible Man or something, then there’s a thing with the Dalai Lama maybe?

And then, well, he decides to have a second Bar Mitzvah to celebrate 13 years since he got his powers. Seems a little iffy, but I’ll take it. Anyways, other than the nebbishy rabbi (if you know anything about me, you know this bugs me.), the one issue is with Ben’s little Bar Mitzvah speech. He talks about his Torah portion, and says it’s from the story of Job. This is a problem.

The Book of Job is not a part of the Five Books of Moses, and therefore would never be chanted as a Torah portion. It is chanted sometimes, though. Also, I’m shocked that he would use Job as a parallel to his own life at all. Job was a guy who God literally messed with just to see what would happen (Religion, everyone!); Ben Grimm was a fighter pilot who yes, lost his handsome looks, but then got to be one of the world’s greatest adventurers with his best friends. Helluva trade-off. Yeah studying Job makes him realize that he’s got it pretty good, but man, how many Thing stories are there where he’s dealing with this? Can’t we get him an off-panel therapist or something or be done with it?

Therapy: that’s pretty Jewish, right? (GAAHHHH STEREOTYPES EVEN THOUGH I TOTALLY SEE A THERAPIST TOO.)

Anyways, here’s why I love this book so much. See this place where Ben Grimm celebrated his second Bar Mitzvah?

That’s where I work.


Hebrew School, Everybody!

(This post is part of 8 Nights of Wolkin, my unnecessarily narcissistic semi-exploration of various incarnations of Jews and Judaism in comics, for better or for worse. It’s my way of celebrating Chanukah. That’s how I spell it. Do you have another way of spelling it? I don’t care.)

So I may be short by a day or so on my 8 nights, but here’s a little extra so fill in the blanks: I had a piece up today on ComicsAlliance with their first-ever Chanukah gift list! I think it’s a pretty decent list of Jewish comics, if a little bit incomplete and it’s extra special because of the stupid comments.

Moving on…

Tonight’s installment pulls from everyone’s favorite thing: the Marvel Holiday Special!!! We’re not always lucky enough to get a Chanukah story in one of these, but 1993 was an exception, with a Peter David-penned tale of Leonard “Doc” “I’m the craziest psychologist alive” Samson visiting a classroom at a Yeshiva to tell the students the story of Chanukah.

Two quick things: interesting to see a co-ed classroom in a Yeshiva, which is traditionally an Orthodox learning institution. Boys and girls learning Jewish things together? That doesn’t happen so much. Also weird that they don’t know anything about Chanukah yet.

In fact, these kids don’t seem to know anything at all:

Click here to read more »

Market Day is a Thing that I Love

(This post is part of 8 Nights of Wolkin, my unnecessarily narcissistic semi-exploration of various incarnations of Jews and Judaism in comics, for better or for worse. It’s my way of celebrating Chanukah. That’s how I spell it. Do you have another way of spelling it? I don’t care.)

I have to open this up by way of an embarrassing confession. I remember the Wednesday when James Sturm’s Market Day first hit comic stores. My man at my local spot called my attention to it, reminding me that the real stuff is the real stuff and there ain’t no amount of blood-vomiting supervillains that’s gonna change that. I certainly wouldn’t dispute the talent of someone like Sturm (EVER), but I took one look at the cover and basically said “as much as I love this guy, I’ve read enough stories about bearded old Jewish fellas for now.”

I can be an idiot sometimes.

Click here to read more »

Internal Monologue Reviews: Ragman

(This review is part of Eight Days of Wolkin, my unnecessarily narcissistic semi-exploration of various incarnations of Jews and Judaism in comics, for better or for worse. It’s my way of celebrating Chanukah. That’s how I spell it. Do you have another way of spelling it? I don’t care.)

Ragman: Suit of Souls #1

By Christos N. Gage and Steven Segovia

A Note for the Reader: There is only one way to properly read this comic. First you must develop serious issues with your mother, a la Portnoy’s Complaint. Then you must have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. You should not have the meaningful kind, though. You should have the kind that focuses on the party instead of the meaning, and none of your relative should get along with each other none of them. This should be the type of event that brings out the worst in your loved ones, leading you to question what it even means to have a Bar Mitzvah. But then you should realize that there is no such thing as “having” a Bar Mitzvah. A Bar Mitzvah is something that you become. Then you should go on an Israel trip, come home and find a non-Jewish dating partner, stop talking to your parents for a while and find a good therapist or something. And then finally, just as you think you’re finally ready to read this comic, read “The Chosen” by Chaim Potok, watched Yentl once, Fiddler on the Roof Twice and Schindler’s List three times.

Click here to read more »

Happy Chanukah!!!

Stories are how people make sense of themselves and their worlds. In young children’s spontaneous stories that they act out as they play, we can see how they believe people related to one another, who they hope to become, and how they will behave. We can see adolescents play roles in their own and other people’s stories in order to figure out where they fit into their ever-expanding worlds. As adults, the true and imaginary stories we wish to tell and believe suggest what we value most in the world. In a real sense, stories make people.

-From text, lies and videotape: stories about life, literacy, & learning, by Patrick Shannon

I discovered the quote above when I was researching my graduate thesis about 3 years ago and it’s become central to my personal philosophy ever since then. I love stories. I love telling them, hearing them, breaking them down, questioning the way they’re told, and delving into what say about the people who create and communicate them. I think it goes without saying that my love for comics plays a huge role in that, as does my love for Judaism.

There are a number of times when I allow those two loves to come together. My graduate thesis is a perfect example, which I may discuss here someday once I’ve decided to go the boring route with this here website. I say this because that particular piece of writing is like 80 pages of verbal Ambien and while I’m proud of it, I have no desire to inflict it upon the rest of you.

You may have also heard that Jews and Comics is like, a thing. Many folks in my world love to discuss this, and while I initially was excited about the role that members of my extended community/family have played in the development of the comics medium, I’ve grown tired of certain aspects of the conversation. There’s only so many times that someone can ask me if I’ve read Kavalier and Clay (I have) or feel like they need to tell me that “Oh my God Superman is totally Jewish he’s like Moses did you know that?” (I’m not sure I care anymore).

I have a lot of problems with the way this has been approached by a number of people and I don’t feel comfortable naming them here because my world is a small world and it’ll bite me in the ass. I’m far more interested in the general intersection of religious themes and comics, and people like A. David Lewis and his contemporaries are doing great work in that area as far as I’m concerned. The other big thing is the fascinating resonance between storytelling devices in mainstream comics culture like the retcon and fanfic (I know, I know) and works of classical rabbinic literature like Midrash.

However.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to address Jews and Judaism in comics in my own way, and so I’m going to attempt to use the 8 Nights of Chanukah as a time to do so. I have an overall concern with the representations of Jews and Jewish identity in comics (especially superhero comics) that I find to be problematic and lacking. At the same time, there have been some incredible works that speak to a sort of classical Jewish sensibility while telling stories of universal relevance.

What I was trying to say there is that the recent Ragman one-shot was pretty frustrating to me while James Sturm’s Market Day made my heart soar. Market Day will be covered later on, but the first post you’ll see after this one will be some thoughts on Ragman, which you can expect later this (Wednesday) evening.

So I hope you’ll join me (and I hope I can keep up! it’s a pretty crazy week for me.) as I get into some of the best and worst in Jewish comics (or “Semitiquential Art” as my young friend Max likes to call it). I also plan to share some thoughts on how I’ve occasionally worked comics into my own teaching, because I’m the only person in the world who has ever used a Let’s Be Friends Again strip to teach a rabbi. That’s facts.

You’ll get all the different versions of my fractured mind on two of  my favorite things, and maybe you’ll learn something along the way. I mean, I am a teacher and everything.

Like you see in the quote, the stories we tell ourselves and how we tell them are really important. As a Jewish guy who loves comics, I care deeply about the potential for these stories to offer new ways of thinking about ourselves as Jews and inviting others to do the same, rather than tying us down to the old ones. We can honor our past without abandoning it, or rehashing it endlessly until it loses all meaning. I’m being deliberately vague here, but put simply, we create our truths out of the stories we tell. Let’s make sure that we’re telling the right ones.

Finally: WHY WON’T MARVEL COMICS SEE THE OBVIOUS LICENSING OPPORTUNITY IN MAKING A DR. OCTOPUS MENORAH? THAT SHOULD SEEM OBVIOUS TO US ALL, SHOULDN’T IT? I DON’T REALLY SEE WHY I HAVE TO ASK FOR SOMETHING LIKE THIS SINCE THERE SHOULD BE SOMEONE AT MARVEL WHO GETS PAID TO THINK OF THESE THINGS.

SERIOUSLY, MARVEL. CALL ME. ON THE TELEPHONE.