Kapow! Zonk! Plotz! Jewish influence in American comics

The Dark Knight may be the must-see movie of the moment, but it’s not the smartest comic-based entertainment this summer. That slot belongs to Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of an American Art Form (available 8/26), edited by Brown University professor Paul Buhle, an instant classic that illuminates the significance and artistry of comic-book culture.

The compendium of more than 100 comics includes the iconic (Superman, L’il Abner), the familiar (R. Crumb, Jules Feiffer), and the truly obscure (the previously unpublished Mel Brooks: Yiddish Comedian, which traces Melvin Kaminsky’s rise from the Catskills to Broadway). But special mention goes to the incredible early-20th-century Yiddish-language newspaper comics — like Gimpl Binish, the Matchmaker — which read like a mesmerizing Lower East Side history lesson.

“The Jewish role in the comic book was both extensive and intensive,” Buhle writes. “Nowhere but Hollywood . . . was the Jewish role so influential in a major form of popular art.” With The Dark Knight just cracking $400 million, both art forms seem to be alive and well.

BUY Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of an American Art Form (The New Press; hardcover; 206 pages)

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