Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jewish Graphic Novels

Today, I finally got to visit the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, for the Jewish Graphic Novel exhibit. It closes Sunday (and the museum is never open on Saturdays--Shabbat, don'chaknow), and I'm seriously considering going back that day to see it again. The exhibit covers the history of comic books and graphic novels from a Jewish perspective, and focuses specifically on several novels by Jewish authors and artists that pertain directly to Jewish history, culture, and religion. Will Eisner's work was featured heavily, of course, and I was unspeakably happy to see a whole panel on Magneto. The writer who really developed his character was Jewish, and it was his idea to make him a tragic hero as much as a supervillain. (Magneto is one of my favourite fictional characters simply because he is so complex.)

My happiest discoveries were three comic artists whose work I was previously unfamiliar with: Joann Sfar (The Rabbi's Cat), Steve Sheinkin (the Rabbi Harvey books), and J. T. Waldman (Megillat Esther). They have radically different styles of both art and storytelling, and their work ranges from enchanting (Sfar) to hilarious (Sheinkin) to breathtaking (Waldman). Megillat Esther in particular is intriguing because it retells the Book of Esther (ha'Megillat Esther) in graphic novel format. The artwork is beautiful, and Waldman did a wonderful job of not only bringing the characters to life, but of combining ancient Babylonian symbolism with Hebrew calligraphy.

If anyone in the Tulsa area is free Thursday, Friday, or Sunday, the exhibit is well worth the price of admission. The museum has two permanent exhibits as well. The Holocaust exhibit is subtle and chilling; it's jarring to realise that the enamelled tin cup on the other side of the glass belonged to someone in one of the camps, and several examples of American anti-Semitism are displayed at the beginning of the exhibit, demonstrating why the Nazis were able to get away with so much for so long. Upstairs, they have their general exhibit on Jewish history, which includes a lot of beautiful artwork, several very delicate Torah scrolls (with eeny, weeny writing, agh, my eyes), and some incredible examples of embroidered and quilted religious items, like challah cloths and a beautiful bar mitzvah outfit that had belonged to a boy in Poland.

Definitely worth the admission. If anyone is interested in travelling to Tulsa to see the museum, they'll have a new exhibit opening September 21: In A Different Light: The Book of Genesis in the Art of Samuel Bak. I'm considering getting a membership so I can wander to the museum with a sketchbook every once in a while.

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