From Cookbooks to Comic Books

Posted on October 31, 2012 by

A blog post by Curator Karen Falk.

We are getting ready to say farewell to our exhibition, Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity. After 14 months on display in the Feldman Gallery, it will be moving in January to The William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum in Atlanta. You have two more months to get in that visit you planned—make sure to see it before it goes!

In its place, we will be displaying Zap! Pow! Bam! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950, a wonderful look at Superman’s and Batman’s Jewish roots in an exhibition created by the Breman Museum.

Zap! Pow! Bam! will open at the JMM on January 27 and remain on display through August 18. With it, this curator will have to turn her attention from food to a different kind of fun. And just as I began the Chosen Food project with little knowledge of culinary history (other than the ability to cook a Jewish holiday meal for my family—received wisdom I used to take for granted), I begin this new project by studying whole new subject. As a kid, I didn’t pay much attention to the superheroes (I liked the social dramas of Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica), didn’t need to hide them from my parents, didn’t know Marvel from DC, wasn’t spending my allowance on the newest issue. So now I’m catching up, and I don’t mind it one bit!

What have I learned so far? First, that most of the writers, artists, and publishers of the early superhero comics were Jewish. Actually, Michael Chabon introduced most of us to that idea years ago in his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Picador, 2000). I’ve also learned that many writers on the topic, and the Zap! Pow! Bam! exhibit, take as given that these Jewish artists and writers couldn’t help but inject their Jewish concerns into their stories: fighting for the downtrodden, helping the cause of justice, seeking an America where they could feel at home. Finally, I’ve read that many of these same writers and artists denied that they deliberately populated their stories with crypto-Jews. Most simply wanted to tell a great story.

Detective Comics #71. Cover art by Jerry Robinson. © 1942 DC Comics. Batman, Robin & The Joker ™ and © DC Comics. All rights Reserved. Used with Permission. From the collection of Jerry Robinson.

At the JMM, we hope that the story told by Zap! Pow! Bam! —which was curated by the late Jerry Robinson, who conceived and drew Batman’s nemesis, The Joker, and the artist after whom Batman’s sidekick, Robin was named—will surprise you. But even if you are an educated aficionado of Golden Age comics, it is sure to entertain you and your family, with a drawing studio where you can try your hand at cartooning, take a ride in a child-sized Batmobile, and watch clips of superhero TV and movies. We look forward to seeing you at the museum!

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