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Skidmore College
Jacob Perlow Series

2014 Jacob Perlow Series Events

Graphic Jews

Graphic Jews: Negotiating Identity in Sequential Art

Thursday, February 6
7 p.m. reception; 7:30 p.m. panel discussion
Tang Museum, Payne Room

Free and open to the public

Sequential artists Ben Katchor, Leela Corman and James Sturm talk about their work in the medium of comics and discuss the ways in which their work engages with contemporary constructions of Jewish identity. Co-moderated by Gene Kannenberg Jr., historian, director of and author of 500 Essential Graphic Novels; and Gregory Spinner, visiting assistant professor of religion, Skidmore College. Sponsored by the Jacob Perlow Lecture Series and presented in collaboration with the Tang Museum at Skidmore College.

The panel discussion complements a three-month exhibit at the Tang Museum that runs January 25–April 13. Both the panel and the exhibition invite a closer look at sequential art and offer insight into some of the many ways Jews have figured and reconfigured their Jewish identities, exploring the dynamic interplay between culture and religion as well as the rich entanglements of collective memory, historical fiction and personal narratives.

About the panelists

Ben Katchor is a celebrated cartoonist, a contributor to the New Yorker and Metropolis, and author of several works of musical theater who has received both Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships. His strip, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, displays a distinct urban sensibility with a great deal of secularized Yiddishkeit. In The Jew of New York, Katchor unfurls a wry and winding tale of assumed and mistaken identities, traversing wilderness and civic spaces, particularly those fluid borders between stage, circus and museum. Utilizing real historical figures such as like Mordecai Noah, one of the more prominent Jews in antebellum America, Katchor intersperses his story with invented characters and faux period documents, veering between utopian schemes and grandiose business ventures, alternating between prophetic and profitable visions of early America. Besides weaving into the narrative Noah’s actual plan to build a city of refuge for Jews on Grand Isle in the Niagara River, Katchor’s work of historical fantasy explores tropes of various permutations of otherness, including convergent figurations of Jews and animals.

James Sturm is co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont and author of several critically acclaimed graphic novels. The Golem’s Might Swing tells the story of the Stars of David, a traveling Jewish baseball team, in order to explore the role of sports in the construction of both masculinity and race in America. In Sturm’s historical fiction, when these modern-day Wandering Jews want to draw larger audiences to their exhibition games, a member of the team dons the costume worn in Der Golem, a 1920 German expressionist film telling the legend of how the Maharal (an important rabbi from 16th-century Prague) animated an artificial creature to defend the Jews. Sturm also wrote and drew Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, as well as Market Day, a look into one day in the life of a Jewish rug-maker struggling to provide for his family in 19th-century Europe.

Leela Corman is a cartoonist, illustrator and dancer. Her graphic novel Unterzakhn (“Under-things” in Yiddish) follows two sisters in the lower east side of New York beginning in 1909. The different paths taken by Fanya and Esther not only highlight the way women’s choices were severely limited, but Corman’s story complicates the subtle ways that gender intersects with class and ethnic differences.

About the Jacob Perlow Series: A generous grant from the estate of Jacob Perlow—an immigrant to the United States in the 1920s, a successful businessman deeply interested in religion and philosophy and a man who was committed to furthering Jewish education—supports annual lectures and presentations to the college and Capital District community on issues broadly related to Jews and Judaism.