Fans of comic books and graphic novels are mourning the death of Harvey Pekar, who died today in his Cleveland home at the age of 70. Pekar was mainly known for authoring the autobiographical series “American Splendor,” which documented his lower-middle class Jewish upbringing in Ohio. Pekar also wrote “Our Cancer Year,” after being diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1990, and more recently, “The Beats,” a graphic history of the Beat generation.
Even after Pekar’s death, however, there are things to look forward to in the world of Jewish comic books and graphic novels. On September 25, “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women” opens at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum. The Forward is an official media sponsor for the show, which will travel in April 2011 to Toronto’s Koffler Centre for the Arts, and which features such prominent artists as Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Sarah Glidden, Miriam Katin and Ilana Zeffren.
Tuli Kupferberg — 86 year old beat poet, musician and activist, and famed leader of the avant-folk band The Fugs — has been on the news lately. An article on him appeared in the New York Times in late January , another piece was published here, in the Forward just last week, and Tablet carried a podcast, as well.
Tuli’s friends are trying to raise awareness of his life and work, in the light of the musician’s recent stroke, which left him almost blind and in need of constant medical care. Bowery Poetry Club held a tribute concert on Saturday March 6, to collect funds to help cover Kupferberg’s medical bills — and celebrate the decades of his wild anarchist art.
Downtown poet and erotica writer Tsaurah Litsky got up on stage and sang Tuli’s pacifist anthem “Go F*** Yourself With Your Atom Bomb.” She proceeded to reminisce about the day she lost her virginity, when she felt Kupferberg’s invisible presence in the room, prodding her “go, bubbaleh, go!” They both grew up in Yiddish-speaking households, she explained, and sang out “Ikh liebe dich, Tuli!”
The past year has seen a bumper crop of Jewish-themed graphic novels, with subjects ranging from the recent history of the Middle East (Joe Sacco’s “Footnotes in Gaza”) to the ancient mythology of the Middle East (R. Crumb’s “Genesis”) to the poets of the Beat Generation (Harvey Pekar and Ed Piskor’s “The Beats”).
Still, the torrent of graphic productions continues. Most recently, a portion of “Farm 54,” an Israeli book by siblings Gilad and Galit Seliktar, has been published by Words Without Borders, an online magazine that regularly provides translations of works by international authors. As the pre-amble to the excerpt describes it, “Farm 54”
brings together three semi-autobiographical stories from the childhood, puberty, and early adulthood (military service years) of its female protagonist, growing up in Israel’s rural periphery in the 1970s and 1980s. The stories present the disturbing underground dimensions of adolescence, and the dangers and traumas that subvert the superficial tranquility of youth in the countryside.