Comic Book Memoirs at the Graphic Details Show
“I don’t belong IN Israel as much as I belong TO Israel.” So reads the wall text in one of the Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women exhibition rooms. The quote is from artist Miriam Libicki’s comic book series Jobnik! (Real Gone Girl Studios, 2008), one of the many graphic memoirs featured in the international exhibition co-curated by Michael Kaminer and Sarah Lightman.
Nearly all of the exhibited works are original drawings and sketches. Many have never been displayed in public before. We can see the artists’ eraser marks, textual edits, and prepublication ideas. Some of the illustrations are in color, while others are in black and white. A number of the drawings are graphically detailed, displaying a sophisticated understanding of composition, line, and texture. Others are more minimal in their approach. The aesthetic varies greatly among the eighteen artists featured in the show.
A few years ago, Kaminer wrote an article about Jewish women who create autobiographical comics for the Forward.* When London-based artist Sarah Lightman contacted him to discuss curating a comic book show, the idea for a full-scale traveling exhibition began to take shape between the two of them: “The story kind of told itself”, said Kaminer. “I didn’t actually go out seeking work by Jewish women. I was walking through a huge comics show that’s in New York every year, and just happened to notice that there were these young women with Jewish-sounding last names doing this kind of work.”
Graphic novels are a unique storytelling medium. They are literary and visual art, drawing devices and tropes from both. The women featured in the show offer shockingly honest depictions of personal experiences. A wall text by Corinne Pearlman reads: “Never am I so happy and generous as when I offer my self-doubt to the world at large.” The imagery is complex and layered: some of the writers are looking back into their past, while others are writing contemporaneously.
The Graphic Details show manages to successfully showcase the elasticity of graphic novel storytelling. One of the exhibition’s strengths is that it is told in the form of a story. The art is grouped into four thematically arranged rooms: “Sex and Relationships”, “Shit Happens” (otherwise known as the “Embarrassing Moments” room), “Israel and Jewish Identity”, and “Oy Gevalt” (a Yiddish expression). Some of the graphic novels deal with humorous subject matter, such as bodily functions and comical relationships. Others, however, broach serious topics like the Holocaust, war, Israeli politics, and real trauma. Overall, they reveal that the expression of Jewish identity is multifaceted and complex, just like the comic book medium.
Kaminer is an avid comic book collector who appreciates the work of women. It seems to be the way women approach storytelling that is particularly enthralling, and their unique perspective on life: “It’s just the honesty, the straightforward nature of the work, the fearlessness of the work, the kind of humour in the work, dealing with really traumatic things in a way that you can laugh at.”
When asked what he hoped people would take away from the exhibition, Kaminer answered: “I definitely hope it encourages people to look at [comic books] in a different way. But also, we want to introduce them to some artists who deserve a lot more attention than they get, both now and in the history of comics. Jewish women have a really particular niche and have done a lot of work that’s radical, path-breaking, and pioneering in comics and they continue to do so.”
Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women, co-curated by Sarah Lightman and Michael Kaminer, is presented by the Koffler Gallery Off-Site at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto until April 17. The show features 18 international artists from Canada, the United States, the U.K., and Israel: Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Vanessa Davis, Bernice Eisenstein, Sarah Glidden, Miriam Katin, Miss Lasko-Gross, Sarah Lazarovic, Miriam Libicki, Sarah Lightman, Diane Noomin, Corinne Pearlman, Trina Robbins, Racheli Rottner, Sharon Rudahl, Laurie Sandell, Ariel Schrag, Lauren Weinstein, and Ilana Zeffren.
For more information, please visit the Graphic Details blog: http://graphicdetailstheshow.wordpress.com/
*(“Graphic Confessions of Jewish Women: Exposing Themselves Through Pictures and Raw Personal Stories”, published in The Jewish Daily Forward on December 4, 2008).