Source Point Press has announced a new imprint called Maggid Comics, which highlights Jewish writers and stories from a Jewish perspective. The first title from Maggid is an archaeological adventure series with a mystery twist: Ben Mortara and the Thieves of the Golden Table. It’s hitting comic retailers’ shelves March 22nd, 2023.
The history of American comic books is filled with Jewish creators who built the foundation of American comics. From Harvey Kurtzman with Mad Magazine, to Martin Goodman and Timely Comics, or Harry Donenfeld at DC Comics, to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby creating Captain America. Jewish creators are a huge part of the comic book history, but Source Point Press felt there’s been a huge lack of Jewish characters, or representations of Jewish culture, traditions, faith, etc. That is how Maggid Comics was born.
It feels like a disservice to the numerous Jewish creators working in comics today to not get to tell stories from a Jewish perspective, and a disservice to the history of the industry.
Written by screenwriter and filmmaker Arnon Z. Shorr, with art by Kat Baumann, Ben Mortara and the Thieves of the Golden Table is packed with action and mystery as Professor Ben Mortara embarks on yet another globe-trotting archaeological adventure! In the first issue, soliciting to stores currently via Diamond Comic Distributors and Lunar Distribution, Ben is presented with a career-defining opportunity to solve the mystery of the Map of Solomon – a magical map that reveals the location of a powerful treasure. Ben is accompanied by Salman, his mysterious benefactor’s trusty and resourceful assistant. Together, they explore ancient places and secret chambers in search of the map, staying one step ahead of the many forces that seek the treasure (and its power) for themselves.
The weekend is almost here! What geeky things are you all doing? Sound off in the comments below! While you wait for the weekday to end and weekend to begin, here’s some comic news and a review from around the web.
This Purim, a unique Jewish tale of triumph over adversity is getting ready to launch. This new release expands on a story first told in an award-winning short film, The Pirate Captain Toledano which explores a mysterious corner of pirate history: Jewish piracy during the Spanish Inquisition. As refugees from the Spanish Inquisition searched for a safe haven, some took to the sea, and action and adventure inevitably followed. José and The Pirate Captain Toledano will appeal to pirate fans of all ages and will be available in print and digital formats.
José and The Pirate Captain Toledano is written by Arnon Z. Shorr with art by Joshua M. Edelglass and published by Kar-Ben Publishing.
Set in the shadows of the Spanish Inquisition, José and the Pirate Captain Toledano is a coming‐of‐age story that centers on José Alfaro, a young refugee who forms a powerful bond with the mysterious Pirate Captain Toledano. It’s also a dynamic pirate adventure on the high seas, with hand‐ to‐hand combat and ship‐to‐ship action, and the powerful story of a dark time in history when people took different paths to survive.
It’s a new week and we have a lot coming at you! What geeky things did you all do over the weekend? Sound off in the comments below. While you think about that, here’s some news and reviews from around the web.
The following is originally a Tumblr post from a couple years back (as you can see from some of the contemporary references) that I held back from publishing because I wanted to have a Roma sensitivity reader take a look at it first, and then never got around to finishing when other things came up despite their very kind assistance. However, the popularity of WandaVision brought back some pre-existing discourse around Elizabeth Olsen’s casting as a non-Romani actress and Joss Whedon and pre-Feige Marvel executives’ decision to reimagine Wanda and Pietro Maximoff as radicalized Sokovian nationalists rather than Romani.
This reminded me of the unfinished post I’d written about the difficult question of Romani representation in comics rooted in problematic decisions made during Marvel’s Silver Age and its particular relationship to subtextual Judaism in the work of assimilated Jewish creators. So after the break, I’ve posted an edited and elaborated version of my original post.
One comics related question, Victor von Doom is Roma, a poor Roma in his origin at that, but he has “Von” in his title? Is it that Lee-Kirby never consulted the Almanach de Gotha, a reference to Erich von Stroheim (who was after all a Jewish haberdasher who passed himself as a aristo in hollywood and popularized the “von” concept)? But more importantly how does Doom being a proud Roma with a fake Junker aristo name work as a concept? Is Doom appropriating the Nazi-aristocratic culture?
Ok…this is a tricky topic, because I really don’t want to undercut any of the people pushing for better Roma representation in comics, especially with everything going on with Secret Empire and Peter Alan David’s rant at NYCC. However, Silver Age (and later) comics creators hadn’t usually done much cultural research with regard to the Romani, and tended to base their portrayals in the kind of tropes set out by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Universal Pictures’ Wolfman films. These tropes tended to traffic in both Romantic exoticism and anti-Romani stereotypes, and (as I’ll explain when I get into some examples) were used by Marvel creators in a way that arguably involved ethnic erasure, which raises questions about how we think about these characters as positive or negative representation.
To answer the original Tumblr ask, with Victor Von Doom, honestly I think the process didn’t go much further than: repeated Vs sound good and while Doom makes no sense as a last name that would exist in reality, there’s the repeated D’s of Doctor Doom, and “von” sounds Junkerish and (thanks to American propaganda from WWI and WWII) we all know the Junkers are bad guys – without any real reference to the sociocultural meanings of European naming conventions and ethnicities. Then Stan Lee and Jack Kirby probably moved on from a name to the character concept of Victor Von Doom as a tyrant (in the original Greek sense of the term) who overthrew the traditional order; why would Victor hate the old order, well he was persecuted, what’s a group that’s persecuted, Romani are persecuted, so go with that. In Von Doom’s case, things get even more problematic, because von Doom’s Romani heritage was used as a way to explain why Doctor Doom has mastery over magi as well as super-science:
Where I think things become even more complicated is when we get to characters like Magneto, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver. Because whereas Romani identity probably wasn’t a major element of the character creation process for Von Doom, here I feel like Romani was used as a background as a way to bring up Nazi racial ideology and the Holocaust without explicitly labeling anyone as Jewish. Despite the fact that Magneto, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver’s creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee were Jewish and had (Jack more so than Stan) progressive anti-Nazi politics, there was still something of a tendency in pop culture of that era to keep Jewishness subtextual to which the original generation of comics creators was no exception – something that is explored in excellent detail in Abraham Riesman’s True Believer.
Thus, it wasn’t until the Bronze Age of comics where a younger generation of Jewish creators like Chris Claremont took over the franchise that Magneto was revealed to be Jewish. As a result, some awkward retconning took place, such that Erik Lensherr (or Magnus or Max Eisenhardt) now had escaped Auschwitz and joined a Romani caravan, where he met Magda and then fathered Wanda and Pietro and then left. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t Romani of Jewish faith or people of mixed Jewish/Romani ethnicity, but given that what little use of Romani cultural identifiers there is in these cases – which generally boils down to the stereotypical caravans of painted wagons, men wearing vests, and an ill-defined state of persecution – makes no reference to the Zhutane Roma, I don’t think that’s what Lee and Kirby were going for.
Rather, I think creators reached for Romani backgrounds because these creators thought that Roma shared tropes associated with European Jews – Eastern European origins, oppressed minority status, an “otherized” cultural difference from the perceived mainstream – so that they could stand in for Jewish, without running into the problems with either management or the consuming public that Jewishness was believed to run afoul of, while adding exoticized elements that might move more sales units.
And it’s this assumed sameness and safeness I have a problem with, because embedded in there is an assumption that Romani aren’t a real living people and culture, that they are instead a stock trope of fairytales and Gothic horror and thus can be used as a costume, whereas Jews are a real people and culture and thus it would be inappropriate or bad business to depict them directly.
That’s always stuck in my craw when it comes to some of these characters because I’ve never been quite sure whether Erik, Pietro, and Wanda are really supposed to be Romani representation or whether these characters are Jews in Romani-face. Making it all the more complicated is the fact that Marvel doesn’t seem to be comfortable with the situation either; hence the large number of retcons that have taken place that revolve around Wanda and Pietro’s parentage and Magneto’s own ethnic heritage. Are Wanda and Pietro ethnically Romani, or merely adopted? Are they the biological children of Magneto or not, and what does that mean for their Jewish identity? Is Magneto himself a Jew from Warsaw or a Sinti Romani from Gdansk? It all depends on when and which creators one asks.
This uncertainty, however, leaves some significant questions unresolved: is it better, given the fact that almost no minority-group representation in comics (Silver Age or no) is that good to begin with, to have bad representation or none at all? How do we deal with situations in which members of one minority group are appropriating the culture of another to smuggle their own experience into the dominant narrative?
In the end, I think that it can never be satisfying for either Jews or Romani to have one group play-acting as the other – but the real issue is that neither should have to settle for that simply because there’s so little representation for either group that the two groups find themselves fighting over scraps. The answer is that comics companies need to commit to more robust representation both in quantity and quality, such that we don’t have characters having to shoulder the entire weight of being “the” representation for an entire group, let alone more than one.
 The Junker class were hereditary landed nobility in Prussia (more specifically from the north-eastern regions of Prussia) who had something of a lock on military and administrative positions, first within the Kingdom of Prussia and then within the German Empire of 1871-1918. The Junkers tended to be actively pro-monarchist and anti-democratic, and bitterly hostile to both free-market liberalism and Socialism, and because of their dominance within the German Army became stock figures (think buzz cuts, monocles, and dueling scars) of German militarism in both WWI and WWII. More to the point, a Junker would always have the noble title of “von” in their last names, no Romani would ever have been allowed the honorific under the pre-Weimar monarchies, and the Junkers were generally pretty hostile to Romani in much the same way that they tended to be hostile to German and Polish Jews.
In the penultimate episode of Broad City Season 3, the show has gone full fledged serialized, and there’s even a little “to be continued” tag instead of the usual jokes and outtakes as the credits roll. But before Abbi and Ilana go into the great unknown aka Israel with Jared (played by Seth Green) as their tour guide, they get one last intense, fun, wacky, and a little morbid New York misadventure beginning with free (meaning stinky) yoga and ending with them taking their New York street skills to the JFK Airport as no one will get in their path of a free trip to Israel.
After last episode, which zeroed in on Abbi and Ilana’s relationships with Trey and Lincoln respectively, writers Jacobson and Glazer wisely decide to focus on their friendship even though Jaime (Arturo Castro) gets a few scene stealing moments like helping Ilana pack super quickly while wearing no pants and getting ready for a nice masturbation session on the couch a la Abbi dancing naked to “The Edge of Glory” when she realizes Bevers (John Gemberling) has left the apartment. And director Todd Biermann relies on a lot of Broad City standard visuals, like quick cuts between Ilana and Abbi contrasting their behavior, a fast tracking shot as they sprint through the JFK Airport, and a percussion heavy soundtrack. The episode’s story and look might come off as “typical Broad City“, but he also switches things up a little with a longer take of Abbi and Ilana playing a game of “fuck, marry, eat” when there’s a subway stoppage for 30 minutes and burns rubber as a 15 year old son of a taxi driver finally takes Abbi and Ilana to the airport immediately running a stop sign.
As mentioned earlier, the “going somewhere” plot has been use a multitude of times in Broad City, but Jacobson and Glazer keep things clever and occasionally dark, like a great conversation about eating a super cute baby and what parts would be the best on it followed by a lingering shot of the baby’s mother staring into the distance. This probably isn’t the weirdest thing she’s heard today. The recurring reference to Abbi’s butt (Ilana greets her as “Ass” when they try to take the subway to the airport.) also pays off in the form of a plot beat as Ilana’s prayer to it leads to the train restarting. And her hustling ability pays off in a slightly disgusting, yet mega hilarious joke that is also a callback to the “Pussy Weed” episode as Ilana smuggles weed in her vagina (Or “nature’s pocket”.) by wearing period blood stained jeans and gets past security pretty easily. Glazer and Jacobson poke fun at the societal taboos that unfortunately exist around menstruation, and the joke goes beyond simple satire by adding the nervous tension of smuggling drugs past the ever watchful TSA. All the events in the airport are super fun to watch, especially once Abbi and Ilana use their bags to creatively navigate the terminals.
And the final payoff of the episode after Glazer and Jacobson wisely build suspense by not revealing too much about their final destination, and their destination is a ten day trip to Israel as part of a real life program called Birthright meant for Jewish youth 18 to 26 to learn more about Judaism by visiting what Jared calls the “holiest of lands”. (Birthright has come under a lot of heat for being anti-Palestinian, against the two state solution, focusing on Zionism at the expense of other forms of Judaism, or just being plain unhelpful.) The last few minutes show how Abbi and Ilana feel like outsiders among the other Birthright participants, especially their creepy leader Jared, who mentions their “reproductive potential” as soon as they enter the cabin. Glazer and Jacobson go for broad parody of Birthright in this sequence while also creating a sad, emotional moment of Ilana and Abbi separating.
“Getting There” is zippy progression from the familiar Broad City plot beats of Abbi and Ilana running around New York with the added obstacles of teenage taxi drivers and airport issues to the unfamiliar as they go on the Birthright trip. We’ll find out if it’s the fun trip they thought it would be in next week’s season finale.
Also, special thanks to Graphic Policy’s Elana for giving me some additional information about Birthright.