Call for Comments: Biography, History, Memoir, and Chutz-POW

Wayne Here:

This week we’re going to engage in a little shameless self-promotion, or at least I am. A few years ago I was asked to participate in a comic book project. The Pittsburgh Holocaust Center was looking for a new way to teach Holocaust studies. Rather than talk about the horror and tragedy they wanted to focus on people who engaged in genuine acts of heroism during this time. One of the employees there was a friend and customer of mine. He knew that many of the earliest creators of comic books were Jewish so he came up with the idea of using the metaphor of the superhero to represent these people. Initially I was called in in the role comics historian. The original concept was to create an exhibit of comics style art that told the stories of local Pittsburgh survivors. It was to premiere at the 3 rivers Arts Festival and was designed to move to other exhibit spaces.

Once we began conversations about this project they discovered that I not only write and draw comics, I know everyone else in the Pittsburgh area who does. In one meeting someone asked the question, “Do you think we can actually make a comic book out of this?”

This was the birth of Chutz-POW!: Real Superheroes of the Holocaust. Since that time we have produced three issues of the series and there are plans for continuing issues. It has received a lot of acclaim and is being used as an educational tool in high schools and colleges.

So, on this episode we’re going to talk about the project in a lot more depth, but given the theme of what we do around here we want to put it in a larger context as well. We want to discuss the idea of using comics as a format to present biography and autobiography, particularly where it represents much larger historical issues. Books like Maus and Persepolis are probably the most famous for this but there are many others. We want to talk about comics as educational tools, a concept that a lot of people still have trouble wrapping their heads around, but that’s kind of Mav and I do.

Joining us on this episode will be Marcel Walker, lead artist and ongoing project manager of Chutz-POW, as well as Rochel L. Gasson, a Duquesne graduate student who does work studying the Jewish Narrative.

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