The 30th Annual Miami Book Fair International was the venue for a spirited panel titled “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women.” Held at Miami Dade College in a campus art gallery that featured old postcards from Havana juxtaposed against their current views, Professor Laurie Shrage questioned Diane Noomin, Ariel Schrag, Vanessa Davis, and Miriam Katin about their cartoons and graphic stories, and their Jewish influences.
The gallery smelled of garlic and onions… , because the gallery’s air conditioning vents were situated above the Book Fair’s food court’s bbq grills. It gave the setting a homey feeling. Also present was Michael Kaminer, a dining critic for the NY Daily News, who wrote a story on this trend for The Forward in 2008.
Although Jewish artists and publishers have had an extensive role in the creation of comics, the focus has been on men and their superheroes. But women, particularly Jewish women, have birthed the autobiographical comic genre.
Diane Noomin was born in Brooklyn in 1947 and is the creator of DiDi Glitz. She was one of the early contributors to Wimmen’s Comics, Noomin created the first issue of Twisted Sisters Comics with Aline Kominsky Crumb in 1976, and has been the editor for Twisted Sisters. Arriving in San Francisco in 1970, she was instrumental in the founding of collectives of women cartoonists. Twisted Sisters was created after one editor complained that the comics of their collective had too many Jewish characters.
While Noomin trekked from Brooklyn to the Bay Area, Ariel Schrag did the reverse. She left Berkeley for Brooklyn. Schrag gained fame in high school when she self-published her first comic series, AWKWARD, depicting events from her freshman year of high school. Her stories focus on family life, going to concerts, drug use, romantic crushes, and coming out as lesbian. Schrag was also a writer for the Showtime series ‘The L Word’ Schrag said she began cartooning by trying to subvert or pervert the standard cartoon characters and superheroes.
Miriam Katin shared that Jewishness had zero influence on her art. It just so happens that her primary work concerned her family’s escape from the Holocaust. Born in Hungary, she survived WWII, and then emigrated to Israel, and then the United States. Her debut graphic novel, the 2006 memoir “We Are On Our Own,” was a portrait of how her family survived the Second World War. “Letting It Go” is her latest graphic memoir that shows Miriam struggling with her son’s move to Berlin, an event that triggers some long-held grudges.
Cartoonist Vanessa Davis and the other panelists agreed that Jewishness did not play much of a role in their works. This sort of defeated some of the theme of the panel, but so be it. They credited being an ‘outsider’ with greater influence, and stated that there are just as many Latina, Italian, Irish, White, and Black cartoonists. Davis shared that she had initially avoided and delayed a position she was offered at TABLET MAGAZINE, specifically because she wanted to avoid being tagged as a “Jewish Artist.” Most agreed that they would prefer to avoid the “Jewish” female label. It was not resented, just not preferred, although it does give a way for some readers to find you.
A book on Jewish female cartoonists will be released in June 2014, titled “Graphic Details: Essays on Confessional Comics by Jewish Women” edited by by Sarah Lightman.