A Jewish Take on Comic Con

Attendees browsed the booths at the Jewish Comic Con.

Article and multimedia by Nicholas Marrero

After Shacharit, a morning prayer service, members of the Congregation Kol Israel in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, moved to the sanctuary upstairs for a gathering not usually found in a synagogue — artists and comic book creators displaying work featuring superheroes such as Batman and Spider-Man — and Shaloman.

Organizers of the Nov. 13 gathering said they believed it was the first of a kind, a Jewish Comic Con, highlighting the influence that Jewish identity has had on comics, both on the page and behind the scenes.

“Jews invented, for the most part, this industry, the comic book industry. Honoring them, we are going full circle,” said Fabrice Sapolsky, a Brooklyn artist who was one of the organizers.

The Jewish Comic Con was a far cry from the glitzy mainstream comic conventions that are held around the country, attended by hundreds of thousands of people, including cosplayers, people dressed as their favorite characters, and actors promoting their comic-inspired movies.

At the Congregation Kol Israel, two rows of tables were set against the walls of the sanctuary to form an “artists alley.” Besides traditional Marvel and DC comics, guests were able to browse through comics analyzing liturgy, Holocaust stories, Jewish history and Biblical tales.

Author Julian Voloj sold his graphic novel, “Ghetto Brother,” about a Bronx gang leader with Jewish roots who becomes an activist.  Other comics and graphic novels on sale included “We Won’t See Auschwitz,” by Jeremie Dres; “The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey,” by Steve Sheinkin, and “Israeli Defense Comics” by Joshua H. Stulman.

“It’s just nice to meet other Jews interested in comics and other people who are interested in Jewish representation in comics,” said one attendee, Elisheva Rosen.

Fred Polaniecki, president of the synagogue, said the idea to hold a Jewish Comic Con grew out of a conversation he had with Sapolsky.

“I was impressed with Fabrice and some of his work that he was showing me, and I asked if he’d be considering the idea of having an exhibit with us,” Polaniecki said. “And he goes, forget that, ‘Why don’t we have a Jewish comic convention?’ I said, ‘Fabrice, that’s brilliant.’”

Sapolsky said the goal of the event was to present creators, Jewish and non-Jewish, with something Jewish in their body of work that they want to showcase. “And overall that make a cool event like none other,” he said.

Polaniecki acknowledged that the event was unusual for a synagogue. When he attended yeshiva as a child “the biggest sin, besides long hair and looking like a hippie, would have been to walk into a class carrying a comic book,” he said. “So the very fact that we were able to do a Jewish Comic Con in an Orthodox synagogue is bizarre.”

Custom sketches sold by comic book creator and cartoonist Jordan B. Gorfinkel.

The convention served as a fundraiser for the 90-year-old synagogue, with proceeds from a silent auction of artwork going to a restoration project.

Attendees were able to converse with artists and purchase artwork before moving downstairs for panel discussions held throughout the day. Topics discussed included the history of Jewish roots in comics, why comics bloomed in the Jewish community and why Jewish creators mostly hid their heritage in early years.

Polaniecki and Sapolsky plan to hold a second Jewish Comic Con in November 2017 and hope to take the convention on the road; Polaniecki said he’d like to bring the Jewish Comic Con to the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, Poland.

Polaniecki said he also sees an opportunity to broaden the congregation’s role in arts education by offering sketching classes in comic art.

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