Jewish American Heritage Month: Comic Book Creators

Vince Zalkind, Messenger Clerk, North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Regional Library,
Captain America punching hilter
From Captain America’s 1940s debut, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. (Timely/Marvel Comics)

Growing up, I loved comics, but it wasn’t until I discovered the graphic novel Maus by Art Spieglman, that I saw my culture and family heritage as a Jewish American in the pages of a comic. I have since learned that the comic book industry we know today was built by Jewish Americans, with their contributions dating back to the 1930s. These men came from Jewish American immigrant families, some of whom chose to hide their real name. Most of them grew up in New York and through their business skills and creativity changed the medium of comics into something entirely its own. In 2006, May was declared Jewish Heritage month, so what better time than now to showcase these historic Jewish Americans.

Unable to break in right away, many had humble beginnings as ink and painters for small magazines. They would work their way up to being editors and some being offered to write new characters. Others joined forces and made companies like DC and Marvel household names.

With his comic, A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories, Will Eisner, the son of Jewish immigrants from Romania and Austria, created one of the earliest forms of what we now refer to as the graphic novel. Each year his namesake award, The Eisners, is awarded to books across two dozen categories, representing the best publications and creators of the previous year; it is often described as the Oscars of the comic industry.

Bill Finger (Milton Finger) and Bob Kane (Robert Khan), whose family were Eastern European Jews, were tasked with creating the next Superman (also Jewish created: Jerry Siegel & Joseph Shuster), and through their love of Zorro and pulp heroes like Doc Savage and Dick Tracy created Batman.

Stan Lee (Stanley Lieber), the son of Romanian Jewish immigrants, broke the mold by having superheroes like Spider-Man; characters who felt and showed emotions and had a full life outside of being a hero. Stan's heroes were real people, not just boyscout Übermenschs.

Even though these creators have passed away, their history remains deeply rooted in comics. Modern day celebrated creators like Jeph Loeb, Brian Michael Bendis, Marv Wolfman and others are of Jewish descent and are keeping that thread of history alive within comics.

Further Reading

Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of an American Art Form

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir
Lee, Stan

Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the Creators of Superman
Ricca, Brad

From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books
Kaplan, Arie

Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution
Ro, Ronin

Will Eisner, a Spirited Life
Andelman, Bob

Superman is Jewish?: How Comic Book Superheroes Came to Serve Truth, Justice, and the Jewish-American Way
Brod, Harry

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman
Nobleman, Marc Tyler

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman
Nobleman, Marc Tyler

Who is Stan Lee?
Edgers, Geoff