The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art held its annual festival this past weekend in New York. The Big Lipowsky decided to head down and check out the artists displaying their craft.
First up, though, was a MOCCA pre-event: “Comix Autopsy” with editor/promoter Jeff Newelt (Pekar Project, Heeb, SMITH, Royal Flush) and comics creators Miss Lasko-Gross (A Mess of Everything), Chari Pere (ChariPere.com), Eli Valley (EV Comics, The Jewish Daily Forward), and JT Waldman (Megillat Esther). The event was presented by the Yeshiva University Museum in partnership with the Center for Jewish History.
Each artist presented a few pages of favorite comic strips and explained the meaning they found in them. Rather than go through each page, here is a recap of some of the more interesting pages.
Newelt, the panel’s moderator, began by asking, “Are comics an expression of Jewishness?”
Valley presented a strip he had done called “The Odd Couple” featuring Avi Klopnik, a “fundamentalist Jew,” and Brian Greenstein, an “American Jew who doesn’t speak Hebrew visiting Jerusalem for the first time.”
The strip begins with Brian first meeting Avi and thinking how poetic Avi’s Hebrew sounds when Avi greets him with “Baruchim habaim” – welcome. The next panel shows Avi shouting “Shabbat shalom” and Brian thinks about how he understood the word peace and so the essense of Judaism must be peace. The next panel shows Avi giving a diatribe about Reform rabbis and Brian thinking he feels ashamed for growing up secular. The panels progress with Avi saying more and more religiously zealous statements (all in Hebrew and translated at the bottom of the page) and Brian thinking about how he can reconnect to Judaism and this could be his chance.
The last panel take place a year later and Brian is wearing a full beard and black hate and greeting another young American tourist by saying (in Hebrew) Shabbat shalom, Jeff! The enlightment was a poison of the Jewish soul” and the young tourist thinking how ashamed he is to have grown up without a Jewish education.
Explaining the comic, Valley said that the idea of self-conception in America comes from entertainment and comics allow artists to play with caricatures in a positive way. “The Odd Couple,” Valley said, is like a page of modern Talmud – “If the Talmud had been written by paranoid schizophrenics.”
Like Brian, many Jews seeking something often end up with extreme forms of Judaism, Valley said. “To me, the enlightenment gave us everything we are today,” he said.
Self-hatred is one of the idea behind Zionism, he said. The negation of the galut – exile – is an attempt to eliminate that which is considered inferior and breeds a kind of arrogance toward the diaspora, according to Valley.
Chari Pere presented a page from “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi. A young girl in Iran wearing Nike shoes, a jacket, and a Michael Jackson pin is scrutinized by two women in burkas and then hauled away to The Committee, the headquarters of the Guardians of the Revolution.
“Persepolis” sends “a wonderful message of being in charge of one’s own culture and idea,” Pere said.
Lasko-Gross presented a page from her mostly autobiographical book where she’s standing by her grandfather’s hospital bed as he’s hooked up to life-support machines. She’s thinking that her grandfather didn’t want to end up this way and has flashbacks to childhood memories. “He was always a strong man,” the character thinks.
“You can live your whole life as a strong man and in the end you’re a helpless infant again,” Lasko-Gross said.
One panelist presented an Israeli cartoon where the main character is drawn with a scraggly beard and big nose.
“Maybe we’re all self-deprecating Jews,” Newelt suggested.
Valley countered, “When we make Jewish caricatures about ourselves there’s more controversy.” Israelis, however, don’t get the same controversial responses to Jewish caricatures.