Superheroes and schlemiels

Jewish Memory in Comic Strip Art

Strip.SupermanEveryone knows Superman, the comic-strip hero created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel and launched in 1938. In this exhibition the 'man of steel' is joined by a motley assortment of comic-strip figures from 1910 to the present day. Original drawings, printed matter and film material show how forty leading comic-strip artists from the United States, Europe and Israel have developed their vision of history.

The first comic strips from the period 1910 to 1940 appeared in Yiddish and English-language newspapers. They make clear the ordeals faced by Jewish immigrants in their attempt to integrate within American society. In the following period, around 1940, we see the emergence of the phenomenon of the American superhero in comic strips. The integration of Jews was by now well under way and various comic-strip writers focussed on the creation of superheroes with a national character.

An important part of the exhibition is devoted to the work of Will Eisner. WithA Contract with God, Eisner was the first artist to translate his memories of Jewish history into a graphic novel. He was concerned primarily with the culture and way of life of Jewish immigrants in American society.

The Holocaust plays an important role in the work of those Jewish comic-strip authors who became well known after Will Eisner. Maus by Art Spiegelman is now a model for graphic novels dealing with this subject. Bernice Eisenstein and Miriam Katin, for example, have incorporated recollections of the Holocaust in their cartoons as well as ideas about the generation gap and misunderstandings between survivors and their children. The exhibition also contains modern European comics that deal with Jewish culture and history, such as The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar.

The exhibition is a co-production by the JHM and the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme in Paris.