How Jewish Writers Shaped The Comic Book Superhero
Jewish writers and artists played an important role in the creation of the modern American comic book industry. While their experiences shaped the comic books we know today, we go beyond the pages and unpack how comics helped bring about meaningful changes in wider American society.
Which of the following comic book artists is NOT jewish?
Name the famous cartoon character created by Spike Lee?
Man of Steel
Gelila and Hagba Man
Who were the two creators of Superman?
Larry Page and Sergey Brin
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak
Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss
What is the name of Batman’s secret identity?
What was the name of Superman’s secret identity?
Which of the following was NOT written by Jews?
The creators of Superman, Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and the Netherlands. In what way do you think their immigrant experience shaped the identity of the character they created?
In the video we learn that during the 1930s, Jews who had been made to feel unwelcome in many parts of the entertainment industry made it as comic book creators. What do you know about antisemitism in the 1930s and how do you think it may have impacted American Jews at the time? In what ways has antisemitism impacted the professions Jews choose to this very day in many countries?
Tablet Editor-At-Large Liel Leibovitz said in the video that, if you were a creative Jew in the 30s and 40s you couldn’t get a job in an advertising agency or in prestigious journalism. He said, “these were occupations reserved for sons and daughters of well healed sons and daughters of WASP families. You could however get a job in this kind of wild west of an enterprise where people drew these funny books that sold for a pittance and were meant for kids or feeble-minded adults.” Why do you think comic books had this reputation back then, and what do you think about the status of comic books in the society where you live today?
We all know Spiderman’s wise and somber mantra “With great power comes great responsibility.” But is it also a biblical quote?
Sounds like a good question for a rabbi. This was in fact the semi-serious query Rabbi Simcha Weinstein had to field from none other than Stan Lee – the comic-book legend who co-created Spider-Man and came up with Spidey’s motto. “He felt he had pulled it right out of the Bible; he half-jokingly asked me if it was in there,”recalls Weinstein, a New York City-based rabbi who also writes books about comics and their link to Judaism. “I jokingly responded that it must be in one of the commentaries.”
Does this Spiderman quote speak to you as a Jew in the modern world? Does it feel like something that could have come from the Torah?
What are Jewish Values? Many characters featured in this video were reflective of what their Jewish creators wanted to see in a more perfect world. They emphasized values such as concern for the greater good, helping others, self sacrifice, standing up for others and doing what’s right in the most challenging of situations.
Some say these are specifically Jewish values, while others consider them to be universal to all good people.
As Jews became more accepted in the comic industry, they started to create more diverse characters such as African Americans, Asian Americans, LGBTQ characters, women and more.
Tablet Editor-At-Large Liel Leibovitz said they were hugely ahead of their time in showcasing people of different backgrounds, different ideas and politics. He added that, “comics felt safe doing it, as they were a step child of pop culture that could take much more risks, being more subversive and inclusive than the mainstream.” Did you think comics played a role in making the U.S. a more tolerant and liberal society? If so, how?
Choose one comic created by a Jew and list five values you can see in the story that align with those of the Jewish tradition as an image on two tablets.
Superman as a metaphor for Jewish hopes and dreams: In the 1930s, a Jewish mama’s boy from Cleveland named Jerry Siegel created a new kind of hero. Siegel’s father was killed by a robber when Jerry was in his teens, and soon Siegel conceived of a bulletproof crime fighter named Superman. He gave his hero a secret identity, but with a potent twist. Superman came from another world, already superhuman, and learned to pass as an earthling. Superman was the reality, Clark Kent the invention.
Siegel never spoke of the murder of his father. He wanted the world to see him as a big-shot writer, not a wounded boy.
He never addressed his Jewishness either, even when others pointed out how Superman could be read as a metaphor for the Jewish immigrant experience: Rocketed from an ancient world now gone, his destiny and special powers are kept under wraps because the non-Jews wouldn’t understand him. (Jules Feiffer said every kid in his neighborhood knew Superman was Jewish: “Who else but a Jew would make up a name like Clark Kent?”)
Superman insisted that his work as a hero must end if the truth were exposed. Why? Why not just be superhuman in public?
Your Task: Superman speech writer
Imagine a cartoon comic where Clark Kent has a Bar Mitzvah, and at one point decides to reveal that he is in fact Superman with reference to this ritual of becoming a man and taking on the responsibilities of being a Jewish adult. What do you imagine he would write in this speech?
Superman and Tikkun Olam
Create a poster advertising the services of Superman to the humans of earth that uses Jewish expressions, phrases, terminology from classic rabbinic literature. Here is one suggestion to start exploring the question, “who is strong?”
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