Originally Published on JewishBoston.com.
If you’ve followed me across the blogosphere for any amount of time, you may have picked up on one of my hobbies. I love comics. I’ve blogged about it here and on Jewschool, I’ve been written up in the Boston Phoenix for being a comics nerd… I even wrote a couple of articles about Jewish comics writers & artists for the Jewish Advocate about five years ago. So you might understand that I often take gift-giving occasions as opportunities to proselytize about comics by giving them as gifts.
And now, thanks to the power of the internet, I can amplify my message of “comics are awesome” by sharing this gift guide with you. You don’t need to love comics yourself to give them as gifts! Here are four suggestions of great recent comics with Jewish content that make for great gifts whether the recipient already loves comics or is just about to find out.
For the pre-teen in your life, I recommend Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. At first glance, this might seem like your average adventure story about a youngster who longs to make her mark on the world by slaying dragons. It seems that way until, about two dozen pages into the book, Mirka pauses in her quest in order to celebrate Shabbat. This isn’t a book with a heavy-handed Jewish message, just one in which the protagonist is an observant Jew… and a girl… and a would-be dragon-slayer. Honestly, if that isn’t enough to encourage you to buy a copy for everyone you know, I don’t know what else to say, except that the artwork is delightfully fanciful and once you’ve read it, you’ll be glad to discover it’s the first installment in a planned series.
For the teenager in your life, check out Howl: A Graphic Novel by Allen Ginsberg and Eric Drooker. Yes, it’s that Howl, the classic beat poem, and no, it’s not a novel despite the titling of this edition. But the poem is here in its entirety, with images by Drooker, who collaborated directly with Ginsberg when the poet was still alive on Illuminated Poems. Drooker was encouraged to set Ginsberg’s most famous poem to images by the producers of the recent biopic, who animated Drooker’s paintings for their film. Although the language is at time graphic, the poet’s vivid cry against alienation has spoken to teens (and anyone who’s ever been a teen) since its debut. The poem certainly doesn’t need illustrations, but Drooker’s work paces and enhances Ginsburg’s words without ever telling the reader what to think or how to imagine.
For the college student in your life, consider How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden. I would call this the hot graphic novel of the season, except it too is not a novel, but rather the nonfiction account of Newton-native Glidden’s Birthright Israel trip. She approached the trip skeptical of the target of government-sponsored propaganda, and she takes the reader with her on a journey through her thought process as she encounters the people and places of the Jewish State. As Glidden herself struggles to keep perspective despite the “Birthright Glow,” you’ll find yourself also wondering whether or not she’s successful. This is a particularly great gift for anyone who is either about to go on a Birthright Israel trip or recently returned from one, but even if you’ve never been to Israel, Glidden’s honest storytelling and evocative watercolors will draw you in.
For grown-ups, I suggest Market Day by James Sturm. Sturm has been creating artistic meditations on the role of religion in American for years, since publishing The Golem’s Mighty Swing in 2002. With Market Day, Sturm shifts his focus to the shtetl, presenting a portrait of an artisan facing obsolescence in the face of the industrial revolution. Sturm is a master of the comic form, and he wisely lets the pictures do most of the talking in this book. The effect is something like visual poetry; you might read the book quickly, but you’ll want to return to it to reread and savor the emotional unfolding of the story. If your only previous experience with comics is Superman or the Sunday paper, you won’t believe that comics can also do this.