Kosher Comics

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There’s a photo in YNet’s feature on comics for Hasidic Jews with the caption “Determined not to pollute children’s minds.” The article itself discusses the novelty of Hasidim producing their own funnybooks — as if it’s an entirely novel idea that a community that already creates its own distinctive clothing, food, medicines, transportation system, and books and periodicals could possibly produce its own comics.

hasidic comic booksBut let’s get back to this idea about polluting children’s minds. I’m not going to lie. I censor what my kid reads. Although these comics are, as the article says, a “far cry from the thrills of Spiderman and the sexy glam of Lois Lane,” I’d give my daughter a family-friendly Ultimate Spider-Man comic any day of the week. On the other hand, the regular Amazing Spider-Man comic — the “mainstream” version — recently had a plotline about Norman Osborne, Peter Parker’s best friend’s father, going back in time, raping his other best friend, and impregnating her with, um, half-goblin twins.

Not exactly what I’d give my kids to read…no matter whether I’m an Orthodox Jew or a dominatrix or anyone else. The essence of parenting is keeping your kids away from bad things and introducing them to good or inspiring ones. Of course that’s sheltering. It’s also how you keep your kid from getting into trouble, whether it’s stopping them from drinking laundry detergent or becoming a half-goblin rapist.

That said, here’s what the article doesn’t really talk about: the comics themselves. Many of them retell stories of tzaddikim — sometimes performing miracles, sometimes just doing crazy things. (The Vilna Gaon traveling across Europe to find a good etrog was a good example of that.) Others relate Bible stories. I assure you, it’s less crazy and blood-boiling than the “traditional religious tales, all of which are aimed at glorifying the Lord and teaching good virtue” that YNet suggests.

Actually, these comics are a G-dsend. They’re pretty amazing productions — lavishly illustrated, printed on water-repellent glossy paper, and often with their own signature style. One publishing house produces Pixar-like animals, half CGI and half hand-drawn. Another concentrates on painted, gothic-esque images; still another does “widescreen” paneling like Marvel Comics’ Ultimate imprint, where panels take up the entire horizontal margins with visually-dramatic desert and battle scenes.

One notable thing that the article does bring up, however inadvertently: about the cottage industry of comic books created within the Hasidic community, mostly in Israel. At the same time as many independent bookstores and publishers are feeling the grind of recession, and presses are falling right and left, these comics represent a complete publishing victory, both financial and popular: it’s catering to a specific populace — successfully — and people are actually buying it. And, apparently, enjoying it.

Posted on November 16, 2009

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