UofL to Offer Jewish Identity in Graphic Novels & Comics Course

I am delighted to announce that in the new academic year, the program of Judaic Studies at UofL will be offering three new courses never previously taught.

The first of these, HUM 561-02: Jewish Identity in Graphic Novels & Comics, is scheduled for this fall, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1-2:15 p.m. This course is designed to serve the needs of upper-level undergrads, graduate students, as well as those who wish to audit from the community. No prior acquaintance with graphic narratives is necessary.

It will provide students with a substantial introduction to the variety of challenges to Jewish identity and selfhood represented in the graphic novel’s enduring fascination with the consequences of the erasure/repression, as well as celebration, of ethnic/racial origins.

We will examine how graphic novels (and the comics genre) can embody a powerful composite text of words and images that produces effects significantly different from more traditional forms of literary narrative. And this creative power becomes especially striking when placed in the service of gender, racial, religious, and ethnic identity explorations.

As Jules Feiffer once famously observed, “The mild manners and glasses that signified a class of nerdy Clark Kents was, in no way, our real truth. Underneath the schmucky façade there lived Men of Steel! Jerry Siegel’s accomplishment was to chronicle the smart Jewish boy’s American dream. It wasn’t Krypton that Superman came from; it was the planet Minsk or Lodz or Vilna or Warsaw.”

In the later weeks of the class, we will explore how this ethos inspired Michal Chabon’s acclaimed novel about Jewish immigrants and the early comics industry, The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Thematically the rest of the course encompasses the profound influence of the Jewish imagination on the art of visual narrative, including graphic memoirs about Auschwitz and post-Holocaust consciousness, Jewish life in France and North Africa, the complex reality of Israel, and beyond.

I am especially pleased to include a relatively obscure graphic narrative, Liana Finck’s evocative and underrated A Bintel Brief, an inventive homage to “A Bundle of Letters,” the highly influential early 20th-century advice column that ran in the Yiddish Forverts that helped acculturate Jews ‘fresh off the boat’ and was written by the paper’s famous editor Abraham Cahan.

In selecting eleven letters from that vast repository, Finck is clearly drawn to the lonely, heartbroken, and alienated and it is wrenching to think about how easily the desperate writers of a century ago might be put in conversation with the voices of refugees in the present moment.

Indeed, in Finck’s idiosyncratic approach we experience the myriad ways that the present informs the past even while that past continually and forcefully imposes on the present, which I hope will deliver a stirring coda to the entire semester.

Throughout the semester we will learn to be attuned to the delicate interplay between language and images that enliven the work of Art Spiegelman, Joann Sfar, Ruto Modan, Miriam Katin and many others.

Please stay tuned for news about our two other new course offerings, taught by Profs. Manuel Medina and Michal Kofman in Spring 2017.

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