Did you read Superman when you were young? Did you know it was created by two Jewish guys in America? Now meet some other comics artists you probably don’t know: the superheroines of everyday life created by Jewish women.
Jewish women have been making comics about their lives since the 1970s, but at that time it was hard for them, alongside other women, to be published in a mainstream press. The comics press was controlled by men and featured predominantly sexualized and objectified representations of women, as well as violently misogynistic narratives which were meant to be funny but included the torture, humiliation and murder of women. In response, these women artists formed women’s-only comics publications including the very first all-woman comic book in 1970, It Ain’t Me, Babe, edited by Trina Robbins. Another, longer-running publication was the Wimmen’s Comix anthology which ran from 1972 to 1992 with regular contributions by “Graphic Details” artists Aline Kominsky Crumb, Diane Noomin, Trina Robbins and Sharon Rudahl.
The content of these publications was fuelled by the second wave of feminism, addressing the challenges and issues that women experienced daily – rape, sexuality, broken marriages, abortions and miscarriages – as well as specifically Jewish concerns, such as marrying non-Jews, Jewish mothers, religious affiliations and experiences of alienation. Since then, Jewish women have filled comics pages with their voices and experiences, making a distinct contribution to the genre of autobiographical comics.
Telling and drawing their lives on the page is not a privilege Jewish women enjoyed in earlier generations, in a religious tradition that valued male voices over female in religious writings, and privileged text over image. Imagine a Talmud page where women’s voices, and not just those of male rabbis, are recorded. Imagine if some of those commentaries were replaced by images, and then you could read these comics as not just an extension of the Jewish literary tradition, but as a correction of previous oversights and omissions.
“Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women” is an internationally touring exhibition that originated from a newspaper article by Michael Kaminer in The Forward at the suggestion of his co-curator, Sarah Lightman. They collected comics from four countries – the US, Canada, the UK and Israel – made over four decades and arranged around four themes: “Trauma/Cartoon Tears”, on personal and national trauma; “Who Fashioned Humanity?” (named after the blessing recited after using the bathroom), about bodily needs, pleasures, and anxieties; “If I Am Not For Myself”, addressing Jewish identity and Israel; and, finally, “The Whole Mischpocha”, where the focus is family relations and tensions.
“Graphic Details” is an extraordinary project because it challenges the “low art” label associated with comics, which has resulted in the exclusion of comics from museum exhibitions. Here we have original comics pages that display the skill and craftswomanship involved, the complex visual and verbal narratives, the markings, the erasings and the whiteouts. If you look carefully, you will find within these eye-opening, moving, humorous and groundbreaking autobiographical pages the herstory of each artist’s act of creation.
Welcome to the world of “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women”.
Sarah Lightman and Michael Kaminer
Venessa Davis, Aline Kominsky- Crumb, Sarah Lightman, Trina Robbins, Sharon Rudhal, Bernice Eisenstein, Dian Noomin, Sarah Glidden, Miriam Katin, Miss Lasko- Gross, Miriam Libcki, Corinne Perlman, Ariel Schrag, Sarah Lazarovic, Ilana Zeffren and Racheli Rottner
Be'er Sheva municipality
Ministry of Culture and Sport
Yeshiva University Museum
Jewish Daily Forward