Jews have exerted considerable influence on cartooning, particularly in the 20th century. In the United States, a large percentage of the creators of newspaper comic strips were Jewish, Jews played a leading role in the creation and leadership of the comic book industry, and Jews had important parts in the origin and then renewed popularity of animated films.
Although *caricature was developed in the 17th century and became a favorite art form for some of the greatest painters and draftsmen, it was not until the 1890s in America that the comic strip received its impetus. Shortly after the appearance in 1895 in Joseph Pulitzer's New York World of R.F. Outcault's "Yellow Kid," the first cartoon series in story form, William Randolph Hearst prevailed on his leading caricaturist and political lampoonist, Frederick Burr *Opper, a Jew, to draw a strip. This resulted in "Happy Hooligan" and a later series featuring "Alphonse and Gaston," who became symbols for politeness carried to extremes. Opper's work was a major contribution to the evolution of the comic strip, which soon grew into an international phenomenon when Moses *Koenigsberg, in 1913, started King Features Syndicate, destined to become the largest worldwide distributor of comic strips.
The following year Harry Hershfield (1885–1974) introduced a new character, Abie Kabibble, described as "the wandering Jew taking a short rest in the suburbs of the world." Hershfield's strip, entitled "Abie the Agent," was called "the first adult comic strip in America."
Comic strips, at first funny and addressed mainly to children, later developed in different directions, using a variety of art forms, techniques, and themes. Leading Jewish practitioners of this art form were Al *Capp (Alfred Gerald Caplin), creator of "Li'l Abner"; Jules Feiffer (1929– ), a witty dissector of the complex pretensions of urban Americans; Rube (Reuben Lucius) Goldberg (1883–1970), the originator of Boob McNutt and Mike and Ike, and of humorous cartoons depicting elaborate contraptions for performing simple operations; and Milt Gross (1895–1953), popular artist of "Banana Oil" and narrator of illustrated dialect stories. In 1938 Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster introduced a new character, Superman, whose superhuman powers had an enormous impact on the later development of comic strips. Other Jewish artists noted for their work on comic strips include Sam Leff ("Joe Jinks"), Moe Leff ("Joe Palooka"), Mel Lazarus ("Miss Peach"), Jerry Marcus ("Trudy"), Hy Eisman ("Little Iodine"), Howard Schneider ("Eek and Meek"), Ted Key ("Hazel"), Irwin Hasen ("Dondi"), and Will Eisner ("The Spirit"), Art *Spiegelman (the Holocaust), Al *Hirschfeld (Broadway caricaturist), *Herblock (editorial cartoons), R. *Crumb ("underground" comics), and Jeffrey *Katzenberg (animated films at Walt Disney and Dream Works).
While most cartoonists specialize in one form, many vary their output. Goldberg, for example, started as a sports cartoonist and even won a Pulitzer Prize for an editorial cartoon. Nearly all studied art seriously, many had their works collected in books, and a considerable number are represented in reputable museums both by cartoons and by other works. Lyonel Feininger, who left America to return to pre-Hitler Germany, was an outstanding craftsman in two strips, "The Kinder Kids" and "Wee Willie Winkle's World" before he became a great expressionist and cubist painter.
Internationally regarded as one of the outstanding editorial cartoonists of the 1960s was Herblock (Herbert Lawrence *Block), of the Washington Post, who won two Pulitzer Prizes and numerous other awards.
In the more than 2,000 Jewish periodicals that appeared and disappeared in Europe in nearly 300 years, cartooning played an insignificant role. There were exceptions in some some Jewish satirical periodicals that began to appear in the 1870s, such as Kikeriki in Vienna, the London Pipifax, the St. Petersburg Schegez, Puck in New York, andSchlemiel in Germany. Several attempts were made to create satirical journals in Israel: Na'aseh ve-Nishma, Ozer Dallim, and Purimon.
Jewish cartoonists, however, have made substantial contributions to newspapers and magazines all over the world, through imaginative caricature, incisive social and political commentary, and sheer humor. Thomas Theodor *Heine, a German painter and cartoonist, was one of the founders of the satirical review, Simplizissimus, of Munich. Imre *Kelen, born in Hungary, established a reputation with his caricatures of statesmen at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919. Henry (Hy) Mayer went to the United States from Germany, worked for ten years for the New York Times, and was editor of Punch in London in 1914. Walter Tirer, born in Prague, contributed his imitations of the Old Masters to publications in Europe and America. Leo *Haas, a Czech political cartoonist, is known for his vivid secret drawings of the life he endured in concentration camps. Arthur *Szyk, born in Lodz, turned from his specialty, book illumination, to draw savage anti-Nazi caricatures.
The line between humor and social commentary is generally thin, but a number of cartoonists and caricaturists attracted a following because of the essentially serious emphasis in their work: in Israel, Kariel Charles *Gardosh ("Dosh"), Raanan *Lurie, Aryeh Navon, Yoseph Bass, and Yaakov Farkas ("Ze'ev"); in Great Britain, Victor Weisz ("Vicky"), Michael Isaacson ("Niky"), and Ralph Sallon; in the United States, William *Gropper, Ben *Shahn, David Levine, William Auerbach-Levy, and Al Hirschfeld. William Marcus drew political cartoons for the New York Times for fifty years until his retirement in 1958.
Contributors of cartoons to the New Yorker include Romanian-born Saul *Steinberg, William Steig, Carl Rose, Syd Hoff, Anatole Kovarsky, Mischa Richter, Dave Pascal, Abe Birnbaum, Al Roth, and Barney Tobey.
Other "comic panel" cartoonists whose work became familiar in America and abroad include Max Fleischer, whose "Betty Boop" was one of the early stars of the animated cartoon industry, Dave and Irving Breger, Stan Berenstain, Dave Hirsch, George Wolfe, Al Kaufman, Alan Jaffee, Larry Katzman, and Jack Mendelsohn. Four Roth brothers, Ben, Irving, Salo and Al, who were all born in Seletyn in the Carpathian Mountains – and signed their cartoons, respectively, as Roth, Roir, Salo, and Ross – established individual reputations as humor panelists.
In the United States, the traditional Jewish resistance to representational art no longer seems relevant. From the magazine Mad to Spiegelman's Maus, Jews have put their lives in pen and ink and thus portrayed identity, culture and history. The editorial director of Mad, Harvey *Kurtzman, along with the publisher, William *Gaines, brought a distinctly Jewish flavor to what became one of the seminal magazines of postwar American culture. The first issue, in 1952, included a parody of gangster cartoons titled "Gonefs." The Yiddish in the magazine was undefined. Later issues of Mad had sprinklings of Yiddish and Jewish-inspired satire. In the fantasy world of comic strips and comic books, Jews had a major presence, as authors and as characters in the stories, promoting truth, justice, and the American Way. In the late 1960s, Jews played a major role in the new "underground" comics whose best-known practitioner was R. Crumb. Aline *Kominsky, later Crumb's wife, and Diane Noomin collaborated on the comic "Twisted Sister," which recounted their experiences of growing up in Jewish families in New York. In New York, Ben *Katchor created "Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer," which nostalgically captured the nuances of Jewish life and culture in America. The strip was serialized nationally. Through the cartoon medium, the stories of the Jews were incorporated into the mainstream of American life. Perhaps the most influential Jewish artist and writer was Art Spiegelman, whose highly praised Maus series culminated in a special Pulitzer Prize. The book was so unusual that it appeared on the New York Times bestseller list first as a work of fiction and then, after Spiegelman objected, as a work of nonfiction. In expressing the horrors of the Holocaust and its aftermath through words and pictures, Spiegelman meshed comics with art and emerged as a foremost presence in American letters. Days after the World Trade Center fell in 2001, Spiegelman contributed a haunting black-on-black cover to The New Yorker magazine showing the towers as dark, stately silhouettes. The image seared many memories.
S. Becker, Comic Art in America (1959); K. Schwarz, Jewish Artists of the 19th and 20th Centuries (1949); C. Waugh, The Comics (1947); D.M. White and R.H. Abel, The Funnies: An American Idiom (1963).
[Irving Rosenthal /
Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)