Jewish writers and artists created many of America’s most famous comic book superheroes, including Superman, Captain America, Batman and more. A Sunday event at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus will explore that history.
While it might not seem like it to some younger audiences, superheroes such as Superman, Captain America, Batman and Iron Man were drawn on paper in comic books before hitting the silver screen.
And they were all created by Jewish cartoonists, many of them more than 60 years ago — when anti-semitism was rampant and jobs were hard to come by for talented Jews.
“(Jewish creators) had to get involved because they had no other option,” said Arie Kaplan, a New York-based comic-book writer, author, lecturer and humorist who has written a book on the topic.
Kaplan explored the history of American Jewish comic-book creators, most of whom worked in the 1940s, in his book “From Krakow to Krypton: Jews And Comic Books,” published in 2008.
On Sunday, he’ll talk about that history at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus. The event is hosted by the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Howard Schottenstein, president of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, invited Kaplan to speak.
“Whether you’re Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish or Muslim, to learn how people of your faith affected more than just your faith, but individuals throughout the country or the world, it makes you proud,” Schottenstein said. “That’s the reason to do this: to know people of your belief were involved in creating such a cultural phenomenon.”
Jewish authors are the “founders” of the comic-book industry, said Caitlin McGurk, associate curator at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library Museum at Ohio State University. She said the library has more than 30,000 comic books, including some original art by by legendary comic-book artist Jack Kirby, a major innovator and one of the most prolific and influential in the field.
Jewish-created comic books like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor and Captain America remain popular because they were plot-driven, unlike previous comics that were character-driven, Kaplan said. They have real personalities, crushes, love triangles and more, he said.
And some of the characters they created, he said, were metaphors for the Jewish experience.
Superman is from another planet, not country, making him the “ultimate immigrant,” Kaplan said, adding it’s not clear whether or not that was intentional.
Similarly, Captain America just wanted to go fight Nazis, something Kaplan said was a “power fantasy” for Jewish kids at that time.
It’s important to know who created comic books and now, movie characters, because knowing the stories of the creators informs people, he said.
“These are characters that have survived the test of time. They’re still around, we’re still talking about them, they’re still relevant,” he said.
Arie Kaplan will present “A Super Program for Superheroes: The Influence of Jews in the Comics” at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus. 1125 College Ave. Tickets are $18 in advance; those interested can call 614-238-6977. A special free event for children with Kaplan will be held at 3 p.m.