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Jewish Top 10s: Comic Book Writers

Following last week’s New York Comic Con, Shalom Life takes a look at the most influential Jewish comic book writers of our time

By: Zak Edwards
Published: October 18th, 2013 in News » World
Marvel Heroes

Welcome to Jewish Top 10s, where we compile lists that highlight the best and the brightest of everything yehudi, from delicious recipes to funniest actors, to most obnoxious Jewish wedding songs.

A little known fact about comic books in the United States is just how Jewish they are. Some of the most well respected and prolific comic book writers are in fact Jewish, and their influence on the characters is profound. New York Comic Con was last week, so we thought we’d put a list together of our top Jewish comic book writers (not artists, mind you. We’ll save that for another time).

Take Superman, for example: sent into space by his parents, raised by locals, and assimilated into society before coming out and helping the oppressed. Sounds like Moses to me. And Clark Kent, as Jewish scholar Harry Brod points out, is faced with “anti-Semitic stereotypes: weak, cowardly, overly-intellectual, wear[s] glasses,” only to prove himself capable in both his brains as a talented reporter and brawn as the most powerful being on the planet.

So, in honour of Superman’s 75th anniversary this year, we look at those Jewish comic book writers who have changed and left a lasting impact on the world of comics. As a bonus, here’s a video released for the anniversary, by legendary animator Bruce Timm and Man of Steel director Zack Snyder:

HONORARY MENTIONS


WRITER: Michael Chabon

HOMETOWN: Washington, D.C.

KNOWN FOR: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay


WRITER: Bob Kane

HOMETOWN: Los Angeles, California

KNOWN FOR: Batman


WRITER: Max Gaines

HOMETOWN: New York City

KNOWN FOR: Creating the first four-colour, saddle-stitched newsprint pamphlet, a precursor to the colour-comics format


WRITER: Joe Simon

HOMETOWN: Rochester, New York

KNOWN FOR: Pioneering romance and horror comics; creator of many Golden Age characters, first editor Timely Comics (which would later evolve into Marvel Comics)


WRITER: Howard Chaykin

HOMETOWN: Newark, New Jersey

KNOWN FOR: American Flagg!, Black Kiss, and a myriad of other hard-hitting, controversial comics

TOP TEN

10.


WRITER: Harvey Kurtzman

HOMETOWN: Brooklyn, New York

KNOWN FOR: Mad, Little Annie Fanny, Playboy, Jungle Book, Sesame Street

Alfred E. Neuman, the character that appears on nearly every cover of Mad Magazine, is a result of Harvey Kurtzman, who was the Editor and a major contributor to the immensely popular satirical magazine. His work often saw realistic stories met with exaggerated art, using the simplicity of cartoons to make biting satires of everything from American wars to the latest celebrity scandal.


Unlike many of the writers on this list, Kurtzman did little with superheroes and is known for his influence more than his work proper; much of his stories are long out of print, collected by hardcore fans more than anyone else. But he was also an important mentor to people like R. Crumb and filmmaker/animator Terry Gilliam, and often referred to as the Grandaddy of the Underground comics movement that made people like Harvey Pekar popular.

9.


WRITER: Brian Michael Bendis

HOMETOWN: Cleveland, Ohio

KNOWN FOR: Ultimate Spiderman, New Avengers

Read a comic from the nineties and one from the mid-2000s and you will notice something: character dialogue has gotten more quippy, substituting long blocks of speeches for more natural back-and-forth conversations between characters. Brian Michael Bendis made this popular and continues to be one of the top-selling writers in comics today.


Taking cues from playwright David Mamet and pulp novelists like Raymond Chandler more than the men on this list, Bendis has written award-winning runs on Daredevil, is responsible for re-invigorating The Avengers, and writes Marvel’s biggest and best-selling comics. Nowadays, he is more or less in charge of Marvel Comics’ past ten years of publication, so much so that he jokes becoming Editor-in-Chief would force him to take a pay cut! Bendis is currently breathing new life into the X-Men franchise and continues to top sales charts every single month.

8.


WRITER: Daniel Clowes

HOMETOWN: Chicago, Illinois

KNOWN FOR: Ghost World, David Boring, Art School Confidential

After the success of Maus in the early nineties, independent comics started moving from a self-contained group of superfans to a viable way for people to make a living, something Harvey Pekar could only dream of (and frequently did). Daniel Clowes was one of the many artists to experience an extreme rise in popularity during the nineties, building a name for himself throughout the eighties for his post-punk aesthetics about the dispossessed. Much of Clowe’s work is about people who simply wish to be left alone to judge others from a distance, brilliantly depicted in his most famous story Ghost World, which was adapted into a film with Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi in 2001.


Most of Clowe’s work is from his independent series Eightball, which serializes various stories and is consistently one of indie comics best-sellers. The popularity and general literariness of his comics led to many issues of Eightball being sold in regular comic stores back when comic stores were the only place to get these types of things, leading to the rise of graphic novels in general being sold in regular bookstores worldwide.

7.


WRITER: Jerry Siegel

HOMETOWN: Cleveland, Ohio

KNOWN FOR: Superman

Jerry Siegel invented Superman, that is his claim to fame, and the character’s popularity spawned the superhero genre arguably in its entirety. With one character, Siegel and his partner Joe Shuster made every major comic character, and their creators, somehow indebted to these two Jewish men. Siegel is also integral to raising awareness about how comic publishers treated their employees and the ongoing Superman battle for rights by his descendants remains one of the most convoluted legal battles in history.


(The first Superman comic)

With his legal fights, Siegel helped writers and artists secure rights and money for pretty much everyone who came after them. Siegel himself, however, not so much: his partner and others on this list, like Jack Kirby, died relatively poor, fighting for creator rights. Unfortunately, Siegel’s other work never really eclipsed his original idea, which is why he’s not higher on our list.

6.


WRITER: Will Eisner

HOMETOWN: Brooklyn, New York

KNOWN FOR: A Contract with God, The Spirit, Comics & Sequential Arts

There are some mandatory graphic novels out there, the ones you have to read, but none would exist without Will Eisner making the term “graphic novel” popular in the first place with his ground-breaking work A Contract with God. Eisner’s Jewish identity was integral to his work, often looking at anti-Semitism in New York and histories of racism in America.


Eisner made his name with his landmark strip The Spirit, which was turned into a terrible movie by fellow comic writer Frank Miller, before establishing himself as a visionary storyteller. He was dedicated to educating future generations of comic creators, writing textbooks like Comics and Sequential Art, a necessary read for anyone wanting to learn the craft. The comics version of the Academy Awards, the Eisners, are named after this man and are handed out every year at the San Diego Comic Con.

Click on the link on the right for the Top 5 Jewish Comic Book Writers

Related articles: Jewish Top 10s, Superman, X-Men, Marvel, Stan Lee, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Silver Surfer, Hulk, Jack Kirby, Maus, Max Gaines, American Splendour, Comics, Graphic Novels, Harvey Kurtzman, Mad Magazine, Jerry Siegel, Harvey Pekar
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