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In this video, Gregory Spinner, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion at Skidmore College talks about the long history of Jewish Americans and comics.

The exhibition Graphic Jews presents a selection of graphic novels and original pages by contemporary Jewish artists Leela Corman, Vanessa Davis, Ben Katchor, and James Sturm that tell stories about Jewishness and explore some of the many ways Jews have figured and reconfigured their Jewish identities. These works combine words and pictures into what Will Eisner, one of the masters of the form, called “sequential art”: telling stories by putting one image after another after another.

Graphic Jews builds on a long history of Jewish Americans and comics. Jews played an outsized role in the history of American comics, creating, writing, illustrating, and publishing some of the best-known comics during the medium’s Golden Age in the 1930s and 1940s. Yet for much of the twentieth century the actual scale of Jewish involvement in the medium was not obvious, as neither the creators or their creations were marked, let alone marketed, as Jewish. Cultural shifts in American society in the 1960s and 1970s took pressure off Jewish immigrants and their children to assimilate into American society, and, as result, both long-time comics professionals and younger artists began to draw comics in which Jews and questions of Jewish identity figured more prominently. Two important graphic novels from this period signaled the transition: Will Eisner’s A Contract with God (1978), considered by many to be the first graphic novel, and Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1980-1991).

CREDITS | Producer/Videographer/Editor: Vickie Riley. Research/2nd Camera/Assistant Editor: Dorothea Trufelman. Interview: Rachel Seligman. Special Thanks: Gregory Spinner. ©The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, 2014

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