JewishBoston.com: Give Comics for Chanukah

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. Continue reading

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JewishBoston.com: This Shabbat: Read Comics in Public

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

created at: 2010-08-27Tomorrow, August 28, is the first ever International Read Comics in Public Day. Since the American comicbook industry was largely built by Jewish immigrants, the book generally considered to be the first “graphic novel” was all about Jewish life on the Lower East Side, and even today many of the luminaries of the field are Jewish, I think it’s fair game to claim this as a Jewish holiday of sorts.

The day is being sponsored by comics blog The Daily Cross Hatch, prompted by a joke between editors Sarah Morean and Brian Heater. You see, despite deacdes of news articles “discovering” that comics are for adults, all sorts of book awards including the Pulitzer going to comics, and a string of high-grossing and Oscar-winning films based on comics, there’s still some stigma attached to reading them. So Morean & Heater put out the call to comics lovers everywhere – be proud of what you’re reading, and let others see it.  Continue reading

Jewschool.com: Look, up in the sky! It’s a Jew! It’s a Queer! It’s Batwoman!

Originally published on Jewschool.com.

Batwoman from the cover of Detective Comics #854You might remember the media hooplah in 2006 when DC comics introduced their newest incarnation of Batwoman, Katy Kane, who not only kicks ass but also enjoys breast and thigh. That’s right, the new Batwoman plays for my team.

Somehow, amidst all that hooplah, I missed any reference to another revelation about the society lady / crimefighter — she’s also Jewish. Apparently, DC’s Christmas special in 2006 included a depiction of Batwoman celebrating Chanukkah with her then-girlfriend Rene Montoya.

Well, thanks to Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool for bringing this to my attention.

Why is this relevant three years later? Well, this week Batwoman steps out of the shadows to take the leading role in Detective Comics, the flagship Batman book. In issue #854, which debuted on Wednesday, neither of Katy’s identities get much mention — a chanukkiah is visible in her apartment, and there’s a backup story featuring Katy’s ex-girlfriend who has assumed the mantle of The Question.

It remains to be seen how relevant these will be to the story as it unfolds. But what is clear from this first chapter is that writer Greg Rucka and artist J. H. Williams III are great storytellers. The artwork is detailed and textured and iconic without being derivative, with pages that invite the eye to linger and indulge. The script unfolds at a perfect pace, drawing the reader into the mystery at hand with just enough details to hook you in without giving away what’s happening next. I haven’t read a DC comic in years, but I had no trouble diving into this story and knowing everything I needed to know about these characters and their world. A few of the jokier lines are groaners, but that only adds to the sense that these characters are real people.

Now, Batwoman isn’t the first queer superhero, and certainly isn’t the first Jewish superhero, and isn’t even the first queer Jewish superhero (that might be Marvel’s Wiccan, from the Young Avengers… he might not have been first, but he’s my favorite, so I don’t care). But she’s certainly the highest-profile queer Jewish superhero, and she comes to the fore at a time when…. oh, hell, can’t I just be excited at another queer Jewish superhero? When one’s identity fits into a fairly small box, it’s exciting to see that identity represented in pop culture, particularly in such a well-told story. Don’t take my word for it – go out and buy yourself a comic book.

(Yes, I know I’m mixing references with the title, but I couldn’t come up with a suitable riff on Holy XXX, Batman!)

Camp vs. Kitsch: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…

Originally published on Camp vs. Kitsch.

Comic book movies have been so hot lately, it’s easy to forget that they haven’t always been so. But, like anything with devoted fans, even the acknowledged worst of the worst — in this case, that is undoubtedly Howard the Duck — have their staunch defenders. You have to understand, part of the horror of the Howard movie is that the comic book on which it is based is pretty much a work of genius. I know, if you’ve only ever seen the movie, that claim is hard to wrap your mind around. But it’s true. Don’t believe me? Go look. There’s a cheap, $15 “Essential Howard the Duck” paperback available now with most of the original Howard appearances all in one, black and white book. There’s also a hefty, hardcover color Howard Omnibus that’s worth checking out if you’re either loaded or a patron at a well-stocked library.

The film, which starred a punked up Lea Thompson and the voice of Broadway actor Chip Zien (better remembered as the Baker in the original cast of Into the Woods), has so many head-scratcher moments, but nothing tops the grand finale Howard the Duck musical number…

Sing it, Lea!
What could possibly go head to head with this unredeemable kitsch? It would be tempting to throw up a clip of the 60s Batman television show, particularly one with a deliciously camp guest star like Liberace or Ethel Merman. But since part of my mission here is to share some of my private Camp obsessions, I feel obligated instead to share a scene from It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman, the musical based on the Man of Steel, from the songwriters who brought you Bye, Bye, Birdie. The show, which ran on Broadway for a few months in 1966, is nowadays remembered as a pretty entertaining campfest that unfortunately just missed the moment when campiness was in for superheroes.

For reasons that just don’t make any sense to me, the show was resurrected as a late night television movie in 1975, done on an incredibly low budget with horribly “updated” orchestrations. I haven’t seen the whole broadcast (although it’s on my list for a future trip to the Paley Center), but what I have seen is mostly disappointing because it sucks a lot of the fun out of the songs. (The original cast album of the Broadway production is a lot of fun.)

Anyway, I couldn’t find this number in its entirety on YouTube, but I think the clip of David Wilson singing “Pow! Bam! Zonk!” gives you enough of a taste of the show…

Pow! Bam! Zonk!

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The Jewish Advocate: Behind the Spandex: Secrets of the Superheroes

Originally published in The Jewish Advocate. I feel compelled to mention that I was not responsible for the headline or subhead. 

It’s a bird … It’s a plane … No, it’s comic book writer A. David Lewis

BOSTON – When over 8,000 people gathered at the Bayside Expo Center at the start of the month for Boston’s first WizardWorld comics and pop-culture convention, there was the expected smattering of fans dressed like their favorite superheroes waiting in long lines to snag an autograph from the likes of Margot Kidder (Lois Lane in the “Superman” films) and Lou Ferrigno (TV’s ‘Incredible Hulk”). But tucked away in the back corner of the convention hall was a room devoted to a program called Wizard School, a series of classes offering aspiring writers and artists the chance to learn from industry professionals.

Most of the Wizard School classes centered on practical skills and technique. But Saturday night, the room was packed with fans for different kind of class. The session was entitled “Ever-Ending Battle: Superheroes and Mortality.” The brainchild of Allston resident A. David Lewis, the program brought together comic book pros to look at superheroes through the lens of thanatology, the study of death. Thanatology is still a relatively young area of inquiry, but two of its products have already permeated the culture: hospice care, and the stages of grief identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

Lewis is quick to note that “it’s not a bad thing to be concerned about death.” However, he came to the project through comics first. “Over the last few years, I was finding it curious that all these characters were getting killed and brought back. I don’t have any agenda other than discussing it.”

While his research is at an early stage, he has amassed the support not only of convention organizers, but also of the Popular Culture Association, comics journalists, and comics writers and artists. However, he is not new to the field of comics research, having taught classes on comics at Georgetown University and presented papers at conferences on topics such as “The Relationship Between Biblical Midrash and Comic Retcon.”

Although he’s an academic by day, currently teaching at Northeastern University, Lewis has a secret identity of his own as a comic book writer. “I can never decide if I like writing or writing about them better,” he said.

Lewis’s latest project looks at a different kind of superhero: Moses. His graphic novel “Lone and Level Sands” retells the biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt from the perspective of the Egyptians. “I had the idea a long time ago,” he said. “I went to Hebrew School [at Temple Beth Am in Framingham], had my bar mitzvah, but the first time I really gave it any thought was then the movie “Prince of Egypt” came out and I didn’t like it.”

The film’s account of Moses’s life didn’t mesh with Lewis’s memories of the Torah text, so he launched into a research project to find out what Egypt was really like during the time. “The challenge became how to make history and biblical myths live together.”

Lewis cites films about the Holocaust as well as modern American disasters as providing an important conceptual frameworks for him. “I didn’t want it to paint all Egyptians as evil,” he said. “I wanted to tell the full story, see their reaction to the plagues – not just being freaked out when frogs are falling. When everything is done, was there an emergency response plan to deal with the frogs on the ground?”

While Lewis deals with the details of the events, there’s one big detail he’s left up to the readers’ imaginations: “You certainly don’t see God [in the book]; there’s no guide with a beard, voice from the heaven, or hand pointing down,” he said.
He’s also left open to interpretation whether the Egyptian gods are present in the story. “A lot of characters are asking these questions,” he said. “I just never let them have an answer.”

The product is a 160-page story, illustrated by mpMann [yes, that’s how it’s spelled on the cover] that debuted in a black and white edition last April, published by the authors. It generated enough press and sales that Archadia Studios Press has picked it up for broad release. The publisher is now readying a full-color, hardcover edition for December.

“I would love for Hebrew Schools and Jewish groups to read and discuss this,” Lewis said. “But it’s not toeing the company line. It’s not evil Pharaoh and pious Moses. I would love to inspire dialogue.”

The Jewish Advocate: Spiegelman draws his comic view of world events for a local audience; Author of ‘Maus’ books brings ‘raw’ message to Peabody Essex Museum

Originally published in The Jewish Advocate.

SALEM – Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist best known for his Holocaust “Maus” books, drew a sold-out crowd to the Peabody Essex Museum Tuesday night as part of the museum’s month-long look at artistic responses to another horrific event in history, Sept. 11, 2001.

Spiegelman, 57, was born in Stockholm, Sweden, not long after the end of World War II, the child of Holocaust survivors Vladek and Anja. His parents dreamed of him becoming a dentist, but when he discovered Mad magazine, the course of his life changed. “I studied Mad the way some kids studied the Talmud,” he told Tuesday’s audience.

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