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By Aaron Passman
December 04, 2008

If your idea of comic books is capes and tights and nefarious villains, then it’s time to look again. As comic books and graphic novels have become an increasingly respected literary format in the past few decades, there’s been a complementary trend in examining the Jewish connection to comics — a medium that, like the film industry, began with no small amount of help from the Jews.

In fact, the connection between Jews and comic books has spawned something of a cottage industry over the past few years, including panel discussions, blogs and several books published on the topic — the most recent of which, Arie Kaplan’s From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books, was released by Philadelphia’s own Jewish Publication Society.

Superman was not Jewish, per se, although Jewish themes abound.

According to Paul Buhle, senior lecturer in the history and American civilization departments at Brown University, the past decade or so has seen “a broad legitimization within Jewish studies of looking at popular culture, and thinking about popular culture and Jewish roles [in it].”

“Eighty years ago, to talk about the Jewish role in popular culture was considered to be slightly dangerous, because it raised Hollywood-like hackles of Jews controlling young minds in America,” continued Buhle, who edited the collection Jews and American Comics. Now, however, “these subjects are an object of examination, both entirely positive — Jewish contributions to basketball — and not so positive — the Jewish role in organized crime.

“The field is open,” added Buhle, to almost any area where Jews have made an impact, so it’s only natural that comic books would be examined as well.

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