For those of you who are not fortunate enough to have a geek/nerd/fanperson in your life, New York Comic-Con was in town the weekend of October 11th to 14th. Stepping into the Javits Center is like magic, as you are suddenly surrounded by not only other people who have an over appreciation for comic books, but crowds so thick with people dressed as Princess Leia or Inuyasha that it’s hard to move.
The convention that was once a quiet, professional affair has exploded in recent years, as a beacon for any industry remotely appealing to geeks to come out and self-promote. I was there for the third year in a row, ready to check out news of new TV shows and video games, and to pick up as much free loot as I could stuff into my bag. However, I had a second mission: hunt for Jewish content.
Although I don’t expect the Jewish Hero Corps to make an appearance (though maybe I should throw together a Matzah Woman costume for next year), I was hoping to find signs of the seeds that planted the huge jungle of nerddom I saw before me: namely, Jewish ones.
Like the film, the comic book industry was started in America by Jewish immigrants and first-generation Americans. Stan Lee, for example, perhaps comics’ most famous living legend, was born Stanley Lieber, and he founded his empire with the likes of Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg). Jewish artists like Art Spiegelman and Will Eisner elevated the graphic narrative form in the public consciousness, and in particular often dealt with Jewish themes.
Jewish content and themes have often leaked into comic books. Superman is often regarded as a metaphor for the American Jew, but beyond that several famous comic book characters are explicitly Jewish, such as Magneto and Batwoman. However, many people don’t realize or celebrate how Jewish comics are nearly often enough.
As Comic-Con wore on, I began to wonder if I would find anything with Judaism at its core. The closest I got was a booth advertising a graphic novel with some Holocaust themes (and robots), but the scope was wider and its creator was not Jewish himself.
Then, just half an hour before Con closed, I found Elke Reva Sudin. Sudin is a previous Jewish Week 36 Under 36er, and her shirt and booth bore the logo for Hipsters and Chasids. I spoke with her, and she explained that she had been at her booth as much as possible that weekend, and that someone else had sold her art for her over Shabbat. She sold some of her Jewish artwork (I admired a lovely design that incorporated the word Ahava, love), but mostly she said people were amused or curious by the intersection of Judaism and graphic design.
Honestly, this being the second year of my Comic-Con quest, I found more Jewishness this year than I thought I would. Maybe next year Sudin will be seated next to a Hebrew Hammer merchandise table. Because for someone like me, Comic-Con can be my own personal Christmas. But when I see my culture and my heritage reflected in an event that is the culmination of Jewish immigrants and first-generation Americans, it can be my own personal Chanukah.