Tag Archives: comics

Holy Foreskin, Batman!

By Adina Rosenthal

There is a new superhero on the block. In true Superman fashion, he spends his days as regular citizen Miles Hastwick, but when trouble is afoot, he transforms into a superhero ready to rescue the public from a pernicious danger that has afflicted society for thousands of years and must be stopped: circumcision. Yes, folks, he’s Foreskin Man. “Aided by his advanced plasma boots,” as his trading card states, Foreskin Man flies above San Diego “to hunt down criminals who cut the genitals of innocent boys.” Along with the trading cards, you can purchase two issues of Foreskin Man, where he protects the foreskins of baby boys from the likes of Dr. Mutilator and Monster Mohel. T-Shirts are also available for both adults and children, so you too can wear the symbol of Foreskin Man, which is similar to a phallic version of The Green Lantern’s logo.

The comic series creator, Matthew Hess, is president of MGMBill, a national organization promoting legislation to criminalize circumcision of boys under 18, such as the controversial anti-circumcision initiative that will appear on the San Francisco ballot this November. Proponents of the bill assert that this is a human rights issue, referring to circumcision as unnecessary mutilation. Those opposed argue that circumcision is not harmful and call the measure unconstitutional, interfering with their First Amendment rights. The law would slap a fine of $1000 or a year in jail to anyone who performs the ritual on boys under 18.  While Jews and Muslims are well-known for circumcising their sons, most families who choose circumcision in the United States do so apart from religious reasons. Though a recent study shows that fewer Americans are circumcising their baby boys than in the past, as of 2010, 80 percent of the American male population is circumcised, and Jews make up no more than 3 percent of the population.

Foreskin Man was created as part of the campaign to ban circumcision through legislation, and has taken the rhetoric to a whole new level and seems to have singled out Jews as the major culprits. Many are calling the comic series overtly anti-Semitic. While the first issue of Foreskin Man raises eyebrows about what the blond-haired, blue-eyed hero meant when he said the pro-circumcision lobby has “all the well connected doctors and lawyers,” the second issue, with its hooked nose, tallis-adorned villain, Monster Mohel, and his henchman, sporting peyos, black hats, and kippot, leave less to the imagination.

In a press release, Nancy J. Appel, the Anti-Defamation League’s Associate Regional Director, blasted the comic for going too far. Appel vilified Foreskin Man for portraying mohels as “rapacious, bloodthirsty, and bent on harming children” and noted similarities with the blood libel, the accusation that Jews ritually murder Christian children for their blood (which apparently gives matzah its flavor).  Appel also makes the final point that “No matter what one’s personal opinions of male circumcision, it is irresponsible to use stereotypical caricatures of religious Jews to promote the anti-circumcision agenda.”
This charge of anti-Semitism led Jena Troutman of Santa Monica to drop an anti-circumcision proposal for her city. She claims that the initiative has nothing to do with religion, but about “protecting babies from their parents not knowing that circumcision was started in America to end masturbation…You shouldn’t go around cutting up your little babies. Why don’t people [insert expletive here] get that?”

Obviously, the anti-Semitic label is a loaded, hot potato, not to be taken lightly. But is Foreskin Man hate speech, free speech at its ugliest, or simply a humorous social commentary? Where do we draw the line?

When asked if Foreskin Man is anti-Semitic, creator Matthew Hess responded, “A lot of people have said that, but we’re not trying to be anti-Semitic. We’re trying to be pro-human rights.” But some historical comparisons may show that Foreskin Man’s kryptonite is similarities with anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Nazi Germany used comics as propaganda to paint Jews as dishonest, money-grubbing untermenschen (subhumans). For example, the 1940 Nazi film, Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) likened Jews to dirty rats that spread disease throughout the world.  Law enforcement like police and SS-units were required to watch the film in order to desensitize them to the maltreatment of Jews in concentration and extermination camps. The Jews depicted in this movie, as well as other examples of Nazi propaganda against the Jews, looks eerily similar to Monster Mohel.

At the end of the day, Foreskin Man is a strong, Aryan-looking hero who rescues the innocent baby boy from the clutches of the dark, sinister Jew, whose diabolical aim is to “carry out the holy covenant” through circumcision. This comic highlights the classic good versus evil trajectory, leaving little question as to which role the Jew plays.

It’s just not kosher.

Ink Plotz: Jewish Women and Confessional Comics

by Amanda Walgrove

Sure, the Oscars ceremony might feature more Jews than your grandmother’s Passover seder, but despite how it might seem, cinema isn’t the only visual art in which Jews are prominently represented. Featuring the work of eighteen artists, Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women is the first museum exhibit to showcase autobiographical storytelling by Jewish women in this unique sub-genre. The exhibit is now in Toronto, where it will run through April 17. In 2012, the exhibit will make its way to New York’s Yeshiva University Museum and University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design.

Jews have long been forerunners in the medium of graphic art. In the late 1960s, Eli Katz (pseudonym Gil Kane) and Archie Goodwin pioneered an early graphic novel prototype entitled, His Name Is…Savage. Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking Maus won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for its graphic narrative depiction of Nazi Germany.

Women have been writing confessional cartoons since the 1970s, but the context has changed; the then-dominant theme of a stark gender divide has now been superseded by problems with more universal relevance. It wasn’t until journalist Michael Kaminer attended a 2008 Museum of Comic Cartoon Art Expo in New York, that he noticed a curious trend of Jewish women penning autobiographical comics.

“Catholics may confess through a screen in a box, but Jews do it in public—preferably with an audience,” Kaminer commented. By drawing their own screens, boxes, and frames, these women have found innovative ways to convey riotous humor, dramatic confessions, and relatable leitmotifs. After Kaminer wrote an article for The Forward about this unexpected trend, Sarah Lightman, award-winning artist and journalist, proposed turning the idea into an exhibit. The two joined forces to curate an impressive array of originally expressive and transformative work, proving that comics are not just for superheroes and children.

The international collection of artists is richly comprised of visual art veterans, cartoonists, graphic novelists, and comic newbies. While many of these hand-drawn pieces represent Jewish issues, others qualify as Jewish only because their authors identify as such.

In an interview with the Jewish Women’s Archive, artist Miriam Libicki revealed that her motivation to leap into graphic artistry was deeply connected with a need to retain and externalize her sense of Jewish identity. When she moved to the Northwest from Israel, she was surrounded by a group of mostly gentile friends. Ironically, her art started to become full of Jewish references. Libicki said, “Disappearing as a Jew was a horrifying and depressing idea to me, and art, without me realizing it at first, became my way to perform my Judaism, both for myself as a daily practice, and publicly, so that Jewiness was essentially linked to my public identity.” Her graphic novel, jobnik!, which centers around an American girl’s experience in the Israeli army, will be available in December 2011.

Sarah Lightman’s own series, Dumped before Valentine’s, is featured in the exhibit. While at university, she realized that her sister and brother, Esther and Daniel, had their own books in the Bible but she did not. So she began creating “The Book of Sarah,” engaging her connection to Judaism with the visual, not just the textual. It has evolved into an ongoing project full of narrative self-portraits, studies of family photographs and diary drawings. As her Jewish identity was constantly evolving, she was able to find communities of Jewish artists with whom she could share experiences. This was a perfect way to achieve her goal of contributing to Jewish life and history through culture.

Looking forward, we can keep our eyes open for upcoming work from these women as well, most of whom seem to have at least one project on the horizon. Trina Robbins, writer and “herstorian” has been writing comics and books for over thirty years and recently finished scripting a graphic novel for all ages; it tells the true story of Lily Renee Wilheim Phillips, a teenage Jewish girl who escaped the Nazis.

Michael Kaminer hopes that this unique exhibit will help people gain a new perspective on how Jews continue to reinvent comics and shape this sophisticated form of storytelling. As artists, Jews have famously found innovative ways to manifest personal definitions of Jewish identity through artistic expression. While graphic artistry may seem like an underground phenomenon, the creative outlet has proven sufficient for Jewish women who have complex stories to tell and remarkable narratives through which to confess.