TOP 13 Essential Jewish Comic Book Stories — RANKED

A Chanukah special…

Chanukah — or Hanukkah, if you prefer — begins at sundown Sunday night and we’ve got something special for you — the TOP 13 ESSENTIAL JEWISH COMIC BOOK STORIES — RANKED.

The list is by writer Dan Goldman, whose graphic novel Chasing Echoes — with artist George Schall — tells the tale of a family’s pilgrimage to Poland to reconnect with its history.

The book, inspired by real events, is available now from Humanoids. — Dan


If you know your comics history, you know writing and/or drawing funny books was a low-paying entry-level job that a young Jewish immigrant in New York City could actually be hired for in the 1930s and ’40s. Will Eisner, Bill Finger, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Shelly Moldoff were all Jewish.

Even so, rarely was the Jewish identity ever seen on the page. Material was always ordered to be all-American enough to feed into the war effort and succeed in the marketplace. But all that changed with a radical, book-length graphic novel published in 1978 called A Contract With God, by Will Eisner.

Since then, there’s been a surge of graphic novels exploring Jewish history and identity.

With Chanukah upon us, here are 13 favorites of mine:

13. The Contract With God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue, by Will Eisner. These books (published separately) were my first dip into Eisner’s Bronx stories and they evoke what I imagined my grandparents’ lives were like when they stepped off the boat on Ellis Island. Essential.

12. The Rabbi’s Cat, by Joann Sfar. Clever, crude and everything in between. Sfar’s sometimes-talking, always-challenging cat reads like arguments about the Talmud: Everyone is somehow right at the same time. This work also taught me one of the deepest truths about comics: The art should always get out of the way of the story.

11. Berlin, by Jason Lutes. I bought these as floppies when they first started coming out. I was in college (I think) and I’ve bought every single chapter. This compendium was 20 years in the making and it’s a masterpiece on every level.

10. Exit Wounds, by Rutu Modan. With a style all her own, Modan takes us to her native Tel Aviv and makes us look at daily life on the ground there in a politically complicated situation, using delicate lines and earthy colors. We can’t look away no matter how hard we want to.

9. Unterzakhn, by Leela Corman. I don’t remember where I picked this up — Athens, Georgia maybe? — but this story of twin immigrant sisters navigating the crowded and filthy landscape of the Lower East Side is an unsung classic to me.

8. A Jew in Communist Prague, by Vittorio Giardino. Three volumes by an Italian comics master that show the slow growth of Jonas Finck as he adapts and navigates childhood behind the Iron Curtain.

7. A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York, by Liana Finck. I only read this recently, but these little stories are sublime. This began as a collection of letters to the editor of the Jewish Daily Forward that were then turned into gorgeous linework and intimate stories of Jewish life in a New York City I missed living in by a few decades.

6. The Quitter, by Harvey Pekar and Dean Haspiel. One of Pekar’s last books sees him talk (finally) about his own early life. Less curmudgeon than straight-up bully, the story pairs perfectly with Haspiel’s stark bruiser shapes.

5. Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City, by Guy Deslisle. Deslisle’s comics feels like Anthony Bourdain-style shows with artwork instead of food to stare at: There’s so much depth, history and emotion in the simplicity of his lines. I love Deslisle, but his time in Jerusalem gets him on this list. Start here and then go read them all.

4. Yossel, by Joe Kubert. This book is a stuner. Letting Kubert’s pencil work shine, the story feels like it springs from another time… and it does: his own memories. You may know Kubert from Sgt. Rock, but you don’t really know him until you’ve experienced this book, where he imagines what his life would’ve been in the Warsaw ghetto. (In real life, his family escaped before the Nazis took Poland). His Jew Gangster graphic novel is also excellent.

3. Meyer, by Jonathan Lang and Andrea Mutti. This story of an older Meyer Lansky came out recently and appeals directly to my own life: 1980s Miami Beach, Jewish gangsters, hard-boiled yiddishkeit. (Click here for more.)

2. Maus, by Art Spiegelman. You knew it was going to be on this list, but I didn’t put it at No. 1, did I? This is a big one and if you’ve read this far, you’ve already read the book. I remember giving a first print of Book I to my father in high school and watching him burst into tears by Page 3.

1. Megillat Esther: The Graphic Novel, by JT Waldman. I think this is actually the purest Jewish graphic novel ever produced: Waldman takes an actual religious text telling the story of Purim — in my opinion, the Jewish holiday with the most interesting narrative — and rendering every page into a labyrinth of drama, typographic design and ancient flavor.


— JEWS ‘N’ COMICS: The 13 Most Influential Jewish Creators and Execs. Click here.

— Spidey’s Jewish? Such a Nice Boy! Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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