Superheroes: Good and Evil in American Comics

If you enjoyed my recent posts on WW2 era comic book covers and are in the New York area, you may want to check out Superheroes: Good and Evil in American Comics, an exhibition running at The New York Jewish Museum from September 15, 2006 to January 28, 2007. Curated by Jerry Robinson, whose best known creation is The Joker, possibly the best known comic book supervillian of all time, showcases art from the golden age of comic books (from the popularization of the art form in the late 1930s until it came under a period of attack in the early 1950s) in the context of the socio-political conditions of the time. Naturally, since this is The Jewish Museum and the vast majority of early comic book creators were Jewish, there is a strong focus on the relationship that these creators’ Jewish identity had to their art.

Comic book news site Newsarama has a very interesting interview with Jerry Robinson about the exhibit.

NRAMA: Do you have any insight into why Jews were such a big part of the comic book industry in the beginning?

JR: I’ve done a lot of research on this and it’s going to become a book based on the two exhibitions and it will be published by one of the major art publishers in America. Jewish artists and creators have been prominent in New York culture since the turn of the century. A lot of artists, writers, poets, also scientists and other professions were in that first wave of immigration in the 1890’s/1900’s. Then the next wave was due to the rise of Nazism and that wave included a lot of artists, writers and theatrical people. So from that whole first half of the 20th Century, New York absorbed a lot of diverse talent, along with many other immigrants of other nationalities, German, Italian, Russian, etc. But many of them were Jewish and were prominent in their areas. For example, the early movie industry was also dominated by a lot of Jewish actors, writers, filmmakers from Europe. They immigrated to New York and settled in the Lower East Side and at one time there were hundreds of theaters around the country that were showing Jewish plays and performances. The film industry, again, had many prominent Jews such MGM with David O. Selznick, Carl Laemmle with Universal. I can’t name them all.

I was pleased to see that in the interview he also mentioned the exhibit’s collection of covers he chose to include Captain America #1, which earlier this week I called my favorite of the WW2 era anti-Axis covers.

Unfortunately, I will not be back home in the New York area until next summer so I will be missing out on this exhibit, but it sounds well worth visiting for anyone interested in the history of American popular culture, American/New York Jewish history, or comic books at all. And of course, while on this topic I must make a very strong recommendation that anyone with even the slightest, teeniest bit of interest in this stuff immediately get your hands on a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Don’t let the fact that it won the Pulitzer prize for literary scare you off. This fictionalized account of the careers of a a duo of Siegel and Schuster-esque creators of a Nazi-fighting superhero by the name of The Escapist is amazingly fun to read.