The best graphic novels about Jewish themes

Who am I?

My love of comics and characters goes back to when I was very young. I remember falling in love with Snoopy to the point that I would draw a snoopy head on my worksheets in first grade, and my teacher knew it was from me! Once I got older, and began exploring my Jewish heritage in a more mature way, I was astounded by how many deep and meaningful stories I kept encountering. It was my natural inclination to retell these stories in a comic book format. Part of my mission was to find like minded souls who had a love for comix and a love for Jewish stories.

I wrote...

The Book of Secrets

By Mat Tonti,

Book cover of The Book of Secrets

What is my book about?

When a strange book of stories arrives from their beloved missing grandparents, siblings Ben and Rose must dive into the book for clues that will help them in their search for their grandparents. But they are not the only ones searching... Who is the strange creature called the Doughlem who shows up in each of the stories? What other dark forces find the book to be so important? And as more and more characters from the book start showing up in real life, Ben and Rose start to wonder if the book is coming to life, or if they are getting lost in the story.

The books I picked & why

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The Golem's Mighty Swing

By James Sturm,

Book cover of The Golem's Mighty Swing

Why this book?

This book was the first time I read a graphic novel with Jewish themes other than the Holocaust. As a comic book artist who was exploring my Jewish roots, it was eye-opening to read a tale with Jewish characters, especially because it deals with the legend of the Golem, a mystical being made of mud and brought to life through Hebrew incantations.  Add to that great action scenes of 1920s baseball, and it makes for a great read.

A Contract With God

By Will Eisner,

Book cover of A Contract With God

Why this book?

Will Eisner not only invented the term “Graphic Novel” but he innovated much of the art and craft of comix. He is one of the pioneers whom I have studied to learn how comix work. Contract is also amazing because it deals with Jewish New York of the mid 20th century which is where my parents grew up. I connect to the tales of how to balance being American while celebrating my Jewish heritage, and the many challenges that came with living amongst other cultures in the “Melting Pot."

Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East

By Joann Sfar,

Book cover of Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East

Why this book?

In another life, I believe I was a traveling Klezmer musician. I’m not sure why I am not today, but such is how it is. In any case, this book translates the life and energy of Klezmer music into a fun and whimsical tale of a young klezmer musician. Great pacing and fun dialogue keep the story moving. And there’s something about European comics that is a bit more wild and fanciful than American comics.

Megillat Esther

By JT Waldman,

Book cover of Megillat Esther

Why this book?

I came across this book while JT was still working on it in the early 2000s. I contacted him much much excitement because I had never met any other contemporary artists who were interested in translating traditional Jewish legends and midrash into a visual form. When it was finally published, I was blown away at how visually rich it was and how it incorporated the traditional Hebrew text of the Scroll of Esther. And it’s not for kids! A true telling of the story of Esther deserves an R-rating at least. And JT does not shy away from the grittier elements of the traditional story.

The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale

By Art Spiegelman,

Book cover of The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale

Why this book?

I recommend Maus, for so many reasons. It is important on so many levels, including the fact that it was recently banned. Yes, it’s a primary text on the horrors of the Holocaust. Yes, it was the first comic to win a Pulitzer Prize. But I come back again and again to this work because Art is a master of the language of comics. Any comic book maker of any background is indebted to him for pushing the boundaries of what it means to make a panel on a page, and use it to tell a story.  

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