“Who does this grinning face resemble?” MAD magazine has been asking for over half a century. In May 1956, two years after the somehow familiar face first appeared on the satirical magazine’s cover, interested readers learned the name Alfred E. Neuman. Shortly afterwards, Norman Mingo lent him the signature traits that express with imperturbable composure his stock query: “What, me worry?” To this day, nobody knows who is grinning.
© 2010 DC Comics
Nathan Kishon, a kosher slaughterer, has lost his job and his vocation. Accused of breaking rules, he packs his few belongings, and joins the movement for the foundation of a new Jewish homeland. Yet immediately, he loses his faith, and ends up roaming the forests of New York State. The protagonist of Ben Katchor’s graphic novel “The Jew of New York” (1998) wanders a world caught between Jewish tradition and secular Modernism, the laws of which have become enigmatic.
© The Wylie Agency
Didi is in search of the ultimate sexual high. Yet still she always finds time to drape herself decoratively over a sofa, sip a martini, or redesign her apartment. This fabulous lady personifies all a man dreams about. And that is precisely the reason her creator, Diane Noomin, uses Didi to poke fun at the desires and aspirations that supposedly sweeten the everyday lives of middle-class “WASP” (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) Americans.
© Diane Noomin
A contract with God isn’t something one breaks lightly—or is it? Orphan child Frimme must face exile yet surely he can rely on the contract he’s made with God. But when the only person he loves in the world dies, Frimme, now an adult, tries to end his contract, and turns into New York’s most unscrupulous real estate tycoon. To learn what happens next, read Will Eisner’s first graphic novel from 1978.
© Denis Kitchen Art Agency
The Bunch is shrill, loud and hysterical—precisely how women are not meant to be yet always have been. Stories in which The Bunch becomes embroiled derive from the stuff recounted by hysterics on their analyst’s couch. Yet, as the cover declares, reading them “is cheaper than therapy.” The Bunch is the nickname and feminist alter ego of Aline Kominsky-Crumb—a dazzling member of the underground comics scene since the 1970s.
© Aline Kominsky-Crumb
Find one Schmoo, and the next is never far behind. And each is far more than a comic book character. If necessary, this particular gift assuages any hunger while Super-Schmoo protects whomever he wants to. The Schmoo didn’t multiply only in the “Li’l Abner” strips of his creator, Al Capp. He also adorned pretty much everything to be found in the late 1940s, in a typical US-American living room: the crockery, wallpaper, clocks, games, curtains, pens and paper… He even entered the language. So, comic character or not, wish one another “A Happy Schmoo Year!”
© Simon and Schuster
Everyone knows the twentieth-century flying knight in blue stretch nylon, who fights for justice and truth. The Krypton-born alien, with the everyday pseudonym Clark Kent, lives in Metropolis, where he is as much an outsider as Jewish immigrants were in 1930s America. Equipped by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster with superhuman powers, Superman morphs in no time at all into a popular secret weapon, deployed in the fight against National Socialist Germany. Featured in daily comic strips, his own comic book series, radio plays, and animated films, Superman’s heroic deeds never cease to multiply.
© 2010 DC Comics
Abraham Kabibble is actually a car dealer but he’s mostly preoccupied by anything but that. Versatile Abie is an agent on his own account. He speaks English with a Yiddish accent and German grammar, and dreams of seeing German Jews integrated into American society. Created in 1914 as the hero of Harry Hershfield’s eponymous comic newspaper strip, Abie ultimately became the best-known Jewish comic character of his day. He plays on common stereotypes of Jewish immigrants’ lives in New York.
© Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme Paris
Benjamin (Ben) Jacob Grimm is ashamed of his ungainly appearance. Yet all attempts to morph himself back into a human being are doomed to failure. So The Thing, created as a member of Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961, must learn to accept his body. After all, it doesn’t merely resemble the Golem but also possesses superhuman powers. And the love of a blind sculptress is, in any case, his for the taking—even if The Thing can hardly believe it.
TM & © MARVEL
Lovers should be equals. The cat would therefore like to be accepted into the Jewish community to which its lover belongs. She starts to speak and make demands on the rabbi Abraham Sfar, her master, declaring, “I too want a Bar Mitzvah!” And thus begins a journey through the Jewish world of Algeria, the Middle East and metropolitan Paris, told in full color by Joann Sfar’s story, “The Rabbi’s Cat.”
© Édition Dargaud
W. Kaninchen, exact age unknown, is a private detective and entrepreneur. According to Sascha Hommer and Jan-Frederik Bandel, his various business affairs have assured him a measure of prosperity. Whether he was helped along the way by a few superpowers nobody likes to say. W. Kaninchen is working on the multi-volume work of memoirs “In The Museum,” which describes “in a wholly modest manner” (to quote W. Kaninchen) his encounters with numerous significant people in world history. Excerpts are available here.
© Sascha Hommer
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