What Comic Art Can Do: Yiddish, Comics, and Graphic Novels

Stories from Cartoonists and Graphic Novelists in the Oral History Collection

Did you know that some of the most famous cartoonists in the United States, including Marvel creator Stan Lee, underground comic artist Harvey Pekar, and Mad magazine founder Harvey Kurtzman, had Yiddish-speaking immigrant parents? We’ve had the opportunity to interview two American Jewish cartoonist pioneers: Pulitzer Prize winner Jules Feiffer, known for his satirical cartoons, and Hy Eisman, who worked on popular comic strips like Popeye and Archie. 

And what about the graphic novel? Increasingly, new generations of artists are exploring themes of Jewish identity and history in this genre. Following in the footsteps of Art Spiegelman, graphic artist Leela Corman situates her work within a Jewish historical context. In the following oral histories, you’ll learn how Yiddish has informed and influenced these artists and their works. We hope you find something that sparks your curiosity. 

A Jewish Cartoonist Searches for Truth

Jules Feiffer, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and writer, describes how Jewish culture influenced his work and how he connects Judaism to his lifelong devotion to uncovering the truth.

Watch his full interview and excerpts. 

Jews and Cartoons

Leela Corman, creator of Unterzakhn, a graphic novel that follows the lives of Jewish twin sisters growing up in New York City tenements, considers the extensive history of Jewish graphic artists and where she fits into that tradition.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

A Multigenerational Effort to Create Yiddishkeit

Paul Buhle, author and social historian, discusses the process behind his comics anthology Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land, co-created with Harvey Pekar and including the contributions of artists Sharon Rudahl and Nick Thorkelson.

Watch his full interview and excerpts. 

El Iluminado: The Story of Luis de Carabajal

Ilan Stavans talks about his graphic novel El Iluminado, a collaboration with artist Steve Sheinkin, set in Mexico during the Spanish Inquisition.

Watch his full interview and excerpts. 

Every Sunday Was a Holiday: Discovering Comic Strips 

Hy Eisman, who writes and draws the Popeye comic strip, shares how he saw his first American newspaper—and first comic strip—as a child living in an orphanage in New Jersey, sparking a lifelong interest in cartoons.

Watch his full interview.