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Rethinking the Jewish-Comics Connection

Lund, Martin LU (2013) In Lund Studies in History of Religions 34.
Abstract (Swedish)
This thesis is a study of configurations of identity in American mainstream comics. It focuses on how a small number of writers of Jewish descent have expressed or disciplined their Jewishness in relation to their creations. In an attempt to revise common linear narratives, the thesis presents three case studies of famous and influential comics texts with different primary foci: a chapter on Superman asks how characterization was used to configure identity in relation to contemporary society; a chapter on Will Eisner asks how identity was configured and reconfigured in the creator’s work and self-representation; and a chapter on the X-Men asks how identity was configured and reconfigured with reference to the series’ central trope,... (More)
This thesis is a study of configurations of identity in American mainstream comics. It focuses on how a small number of writers of Jewish descent have expressed or disciplined their Jewishness in relation to their creations. In an attempt to revise common linear narratives, the thesis presents three case studies of famous and influential comics texts with different primary foci: a chapter on Superman asks how characterization was used to configure identity in relation to contemporary society; a chapter on Will Eisner asks how identity was configured and reconfigured in the creator’s work and self-representation; and a chapter on the X-Men asks how identity was configured and reconfigured with reference to the series’ central trope, mutantcy. The aim of these studies is to investigate how Jewishness and Americanness, as well as other subject positions that implicitly affect how people think and write, can intersect or converge in mass culture representation. In doing this, the thesis also engages in a critical dialogue with extant writing on the subject of Jews and comics.



The chosen texts are analyzed using a methodology based on theories of representation and on the basis of a social constructivist paradigm of identity and identity formation. From this perspective, it is first argued that the early Superman, rather than being a Moses or golem figure as others have suggested, reverberated with a contemporary Jewish American project to construct a Jewish American heritage and to represent Jewish interests as aligned with national interests. The second chapter argues that Will Eisner’s The Spirit was configured in similar ways, but also that its use of blackface stereotypes constituted race talk, or denigration of African Americans as a means of entry into majority culture. The second half of the chapter argues that Eisner’s use of Jewish significations in his later career was not ethnography but a claim to authenticity, in support of an attempt to “whiten” the comics medium and bring it into the mainstream of American culture. The third chapter suggests that rather than having initially been racial allegory, the X-Men was a product of the Cold War, and that when civil rights discourse began to enter the series, it did so in a way that was common to liberal Jewish rights activism. It is then argued that the increased prominence of themes of prejudice and oppression in the second series was not directly intended to metaphorize Jewishness, as has been claimed, but to construct an open sign of outsiderhood for any reader to inhabit. Finally, it is argued that the reimagining of one the series’ oldest characters as a Holocaust survivor was connected with the writer’s Jewishness, but that this expression of ethnic identity was subsumed under an Americanizing representational logic.



The concluding chapter argues that the popular literature on Jews and comics is best situated within a framework of present-day Jewish American identity formation, and that it constructs myths of a Jewish–comics connection to bolster contemporary Jewishness. In doing so, it is argued, the books employ common contemporary Jewish American themes and symbols to reshape the past of American comics in a way fitting current Jewish American concerns. The chapter then turns to methodological problems stemming from the use of these books in academic writing. This use, along with other issues that have become visible during the production of the thesis, is argued to be potentially detrimental to the study of Jews and comics, and to comics studies in general. Finally, after a summation of the thesis’ findings, it is suggested that the historical Jewish–comics connection, rather than being one of surreptitious symbolic or metaphorical reproduction of elements from religious or historical Jewish traditions, is perhaps instead best understood as an existential connection that emerged from the writers’ individual attempts to navigate the ways Judaism and Americanism hailed them and exerted social pressures. (Less)
Abstract
Popular Abstract in English

The publication of Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000) brought the Jewish–comics connection to popular attention. The novel illuminated the fact that many of the pioneers of American mainstream comics were Jewish. Owing to this history, and to the fact that there today exists a large and growing library of self-consciously Jewish comic books and graphic novels, much has been written about the meaning of the connection. Engaging in a critical dialogue with extant writing on the subject, this thesis argues that much of the popular and scholarly writing on the subject of Jews and comics is historical in the sense that it is a product of... (More)
Popular Abstract in English

The publication of Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000) brought the Jewish–comics connection to popular attention. The novel illuminated the fact that many of the pioneers of American mainstream comics were Jewish. Owing to this history, and to the fact that there today exists a large and growing library of self-consciously Jewish comic books and graphic novels, much has been written about the meaning of the connection. Engaging in a critical dialogue with extant writing on the subject, this thesis argues that much of the popular and scholarly writing on the subject of Jews and comics is historical in the sense that it is a product of its own time, rather than in the sense that it critically investigates the past.

Rethinking the Jewish¬–Comics Connection presents three studies of commonly cited mainstream comics texts written by Jewish Americans: the character Superman from his first appearance in June 1938 until America’s entry in the Second World War in December 1941; comics writer, artist, and advocate Will Eisner’s The Spirit (1940–1952) and long-form comics (1978–2005); and the first and second series of X-Men comic books (1963–1970 and 1975–1991). Situating these texts in their respective contexts and offering alternative interpretations, the thesis suggests that the historical Jewish–comics connection most clearly emerges as an expression of what it meant, for the writers, to be Jewish Americans in relation to their own time. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
supervisor
opponent
  • Professor Wenger, Beth S., University of Pennsylvania
organization
publishing date
type
Thesis
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Jewish studies, American Judaism, comics, whiteness, identity formation
in
Lund Studies in History of Religions
volume
34
pages
413 pages
defense location
Sal 118, Centrum för teologi och religionsvetenskap, Allhelgona kyrkogata 8, Lund
defense date
2013-10-15 14:15
ISSN
1103-4882
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
ffdf721b-cc1c-4d7a-9ff1-221fbb64db82 (old id 4025166)
date added to LUP
2013-09-19 15:22:31
date last changed
2016-09-19 08:45:01
@phdthesis{ffdf721b-cc1c-4d7a-9ff1-221fbb64db82,
  abstract     = {<b>Popular Abstract in English</b><br/><br>
The publication of Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier &amp; Clay (2000) brought the Jewish–comics connection to popular attention. The novel illuminated the fact that many of the pioneers of American mainstream comics were Jewish. Owing to this history, and to the fact that there today exists a large and growing library of self-consciously Jewish comic books and graphic novels, much has been written about the meaning of the connection. Engaging in a critical dialogue with extant writing on the subject, this thesis argues that much of the popular and scholarly writing on the subject of Jews and comics is historical in the sense that it is a product of its own time, rather than in the sense that it critically investigates the past.<br/><br>
Rethinking the Jewish¬–Comics Connection presents three studies of commonly cited mainstream comics texts written by Jewish Americans: the character Superman from his first appearance in June 1938 until America’s entry in the Second World War in December 1941; comics writer, artist, and advocate Will Eisner’s The Spirit (1940–1952) and long-form comics (1978–2005); and the first and second series of X-Men comic books (1963–1970 and 1975–1991). Situating these texts in their respective contexts and offering alternative interpretations, the thesis suggests that the historical Jewish–comics connection most clearly emerges as an expression of what it meant, for the writers, to be Jewish Americans in relation to their own time.},
  author       = {Lund, Martin},
  issn         = {1103-4882},
  keyword      = {Jewish studies,American Judaism,comics,whiteness,identity formation},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {413},
  school       = {Lund University},
  series       = {Lund Studies in History of Religions},
  title        = {Rethinking the Jewish-Comics Connection},
  volume       = {34},
  year         = {2013},
}