Graphic Details: Confessional Comics of Jewish Women

November 5, 2013 - February 16, 2014


Jews have had an extensive contribution to comics, but the focus has been mostly on male artists and their larger than life superhero counterparts. This fall, learn how women contributed to the history of comics, and in particular, to autobiographical comics, a genre they helped birth in Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women. The exhibit features 18 artists, whose writings and drawings depict their own pain, laughter, shame, triumphs and self-doubts in a way that taps a collective nerve. The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU will host the exhibit, which opens to the public on Tuesday, November 5.

What is particularly Jewish and female about how they did it? And, why unveil parts of yourself and your life in comics? These are the questions posed to the artists featured in the exhibit, whose ages and experiences span four decades.

“We are so excited to bring this intimate, unique show to the museum,” said Jo Ann Arnowitz, executive director. “In stark contrast to the superhero exhibit we had in 2007-2008, these artists use their own personal, sometimes tragic, experiences as the material for their work. From relationships to identity crises, these women expose themselves graphically and emotionally to reveal experiences that relate to women of all backgrounds.”

While female graphic novelists began ghost writing in the 1930s, and some comic shops employed women scripters openly into the 1940s, their acceptance into the world of graphic novels would take time. Women who were employed before the war were encouraged to leave their jobs and attend to their husbands, many of whom had returned from the battlefield, though their place in the industry was not wholly forgotten. Some women would later be credited for creating female protagonists such as “Jane Martin,” “Glory Forbes” and “Camilla,” and heroine titles, including “Lady Luck,” “Sheena” and “Senorita Rio.”

As the industry experienced a downturn through the 1960s, new talent emerged injecting social awareness and topics like drugs, racism and corporate greed, to make comics more relevant in the early 1970s. This era would birth the underground comic, or “comix,” a more edgy version of the comics sold by the large publishing houses that dealt with crime, sex, drugs and controversial social issues of the times. A spinoff of the underground comix, autobiographical graphic storytelling, began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some of the pioneers of the genre were women and are included in the Graphic Details exhibit: Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Diane Noomin, who started “Twisted Sisters;” and Trina Robbins and Sharon Rudahl, who together with Crumb, created “Wimmin’s Comix.” Underground comix are now somewhat more mainstream and celebrated for serving as a model to the larger comic industry, proving an adult audience exists for the graphic novel and eliminates the need for a large publishing house to carry the titles in order for them to be successful.

Graphic Details celebrates the Jewish woman’s role in the genre, both from the past and in the modern day. Many of the works in the exhibit address extremely personal topics and also reveal the artists’ feelings about Israel, being Jewish and/or a woman in today’s world, struggles with children, family, intermarriages and other collective experiences. Together, they tell the tale of women everywhere.

Artists in the Graphic Details exhibition include: Vanessa Davis; Bernice Eisenstein; Sarah Glidden; Miriam Katin; Aline Kominsky-Crumb; Miss Lasko-Gross; Sarah Lazarovic; Miriam Libicki; Sarah Lightman; Diane Noomin; Corinne Pearlman; Trina Robbins; Racheli Rotner; Sharon Rudahl; Laurie Sandell; Ariel Schrag; Lauren Weinstein; and Ilana Zeffren.

Some of the artists have distinctly Florida connections: Sarah Lazarovic was raised in South Florida and has drawn on her experiences in some of her works, including an encounter with another famous Florida comic artist, Syd Hoff. The event would later be the foundation for a tribute to Hoff in Tablet Magazine after he passed away in 2012. Vanessa Davis was born in West Palm Beach, where she graduated from the Dreyfoos School of the Arts (then called Palm Beach County School of the Arts) in 1996. Her mother ran the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival for many years.

Graphic Details will be on display at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, 301 Washington Avenue, from November 5 through February 16, 2014. For a complete list of complementary public programs, visit our Calendar page.

Graphic Details is curated by Michael Kaminer and Sarah Lightman. Traveling exhibition developed by Yeshiva University Museum curator Zachary Paul Levine. Funding provided by: Funding Arts Network and The Forward.