“My teenager enjoys reading comics and graphic novels. Are there any about Judaism or with Jewish content that you would recommend?”
Thanks for asking such a fun question! There are many graphic novels with a healthy dose of Yiddishkeit that can intrigue and inspire readers of all ages (I include myself in that category!).
Recent interest in the Jewish role in the American comics industry has inspired some fascinating books and articles (others are mentioned in my previous post). That being said, Jews and Jewish themes have historically been of secondary focus in comic books, even when their creators were Jewish. Modern exceptions include The Thing, the rebooted Batwoman and even the miniseries “The Monolith,” a story of a Golem set in modern Gotham. For those interested in the religious affiliations of comic book characters, this database indexes the faith of many famous heroes and villains.
In contrast to comics, graphic novels offer a wide range of Jewish content; some of my favorites follow, broken down by general themes. I hope readers will offer their own recommendations in the comments!
“The Comic Torah” offers a provocative parsha-by-parsha exploration of the Torah. In many ways it’s a very accessible commentary on the Bible, although, like the Torah itself, it covers some very adult themes. Similarly, R. Crumb’s graphic adaptation of “Genesis” is designed with mature readers in mind and has received quite favorable reviews. While Crumb is not Jewish, I’ve found his approach to sefer Bereshit to be powerfully resonant and an innovative way to open discussions around our ancient stories.
Jewish History and Culture
No conversation about Jews and graphic novels could be complete without mentioning the master storyteller Will Eisner and his “The Contract with God Trilogy.” Steeped in Jewish life, legends and history, Eisner’s works about life in the tenements of New York are gripping and highly rewarding.
The Holocaust is frequently referenced in graphic fiction (the X-Men’s antagonist Magneto is now portrayed as a survivor). One of the first graphic novels about the Holocaust, “Maus” is a modern classic, both visceral and compelling. “Yossel,” by Joe Kubert, offers a shorter, though no less gripping, account of the Holocaust.
“The Golem’s Mighty Swing” is the story of a Jewish traveling baseball team in 1920s America. Beautifully layered and, at times, quite dark, I often share this story with sports-minded students.
Mystical and Spiritual
The line between the historic and the fantastic is often blurred; “The Rabbi’s Cat” explores Jewish life in Algiers in the 1930s—a rare graphic work featuring Sephardi culture. It skillfully makes use of magical realism to delve into issues of faith, tradition and spirituality.
I was also completely charmed by the “Hereville” series. The tagline for the first volume is utter brilliance: “Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl.” It’s a wonderful vehicle for a coming-of-age story with a female protagonist who’s both relatable and likable.
Graphic works are becoming increasingly popular; titles with Jewish content appear regularly (I haven’t had the chance to read “Breath of Bones,” a new Golem story). I hope this list offers a useful and enjoyable guide to Jewish graphic fiction!