TORONTO — Steven Bergson was five years old when he picked up his first comic book. It didn’t take long until he was hooked.
“Once I came across a comic, I wanted more. [I liked] the colourful superheroes, the super powered good guys beating up the bad guys,” said Bergson, a former librarian who never lost his appreciation for comics and graphic novels. “I still read superhero comics sometimes.”
As he got older, Bergson, a research administrator at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, began reading an array of comics, including Jewish-themed graphic novels.
“I found it was unusual for them to be out there,” he said of Jewish comics like Maus by Art Spiegelman and To the Heart of the Storm, by Will Eisner. “There’s a lot more out there than there used to be. I think people are more aware of the new stuff, not the old stuff.”
Around seven years ago, Bergson first had the idea to create a Jewish comic anthology – a collection that would bring older Jewish comics together with new stories. But he quickly learned the idea was easier said than done.
“I started with an American Jewish publisher. I essentially got a rejection,” he said.
After many years and different publishers, Bergson came across an article in The CJN last October about Andy Stanleigh of Alternate History Comics, which publishes comics and graphic novels. When approached, Stanleigh was more than just intrigued.
“I said, ‘Hey, why would anybody pass this up?’ (Bergson) has been working on it for the last five or six years. He had the titles and the artists that he wanted to include,” said Stanleigh. “He basically handed it off to me.”
To fund the project, called The Jewish Comix Anthology: Volume 1, Stanleigh turned to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, where his fundraising goal of $50,000 was surpassed by more than $2,000.
While Bergman was surprised by the funds, Stanleigh wasn’t.
“I knew it was going to be a really nice, wide-reaching thing,” he said.
The project, which should be ready for print in May and released in June, is a mix of newly commissioned stories and older works that are being republished.
Comics from artists like Spiegelman, Eisner, Michael Netzer and Robert Crumb will be included in the anthology, along with a story written by Bergson about a Jew who finds a clever way of dealing with anti-Semitism.
One of the stories included is a little-known piece of Jewish folklore written several centuries ago. The tale is about a modest Jewish virgin who is kidnapped by her city’s ruler. When asked why, the ruler explains that he’s infatuated with her because of her beautiful eyes. In an effort to keep her virginity, the girl asks to get ready for the ruler in a private room, where she gouges out her eyes. After handing them off to the ruler, she’s finally sent home.
While the story is dark, Bergson enjoyed its irony.
“I think the fact that it was ever told at all and the fact that it seems to no longer be discussed tells us something about Jewish storytelling,” he said.