Women’s Voices Through Comics

Sarah_lightmanPhotoSmallSarah Lightman is an artist, curator and academic with a special interest in Jewish women creating autobiographical comics. She’s the co-curator of the touring museum exhibit Graphic Details: Confessional Comics and has just completed editing the book Graphic Details: Essays on Confessional Comics by Jewish Women, which will be published next year by McFarland. This will be followed in 2015 by her own autobiographical graphic novel, The Book of Sarah to be published by Myriad Editions in 2015. Lightman is also a director of Laydeez Do Comics, the first women’s led comics forum to focus on autobiographical comics with branches in the UK, Ireland and USA. While the concentration is on women, anyone may attend.

Danica Davidson, whose journalism on graphic novels has been published by Lilith, MTV and CNN, interviewed Lightman.

Danica Davidson: Can you tell us about Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women?

Sarah Lightman: Graphic Details is co-curated by myself and Michael Kaminer, who’s a New York-based journalist and comics collector. He wrote an article for the Jewish Daily Forward about some Jewish women comic artists he’d seen at a comics event. I read the article and realized that was exactly what I was doing in the UK, but I hadn’t found many other Jewish people doing the same thing. It was really exciting. I suggested to Michael that we make an exhibition out of his article, because I had already curated a number of shows, including a series on contemporary artists at Ben Uri Gallery, the London Jewish Museum of Art in London. Also, I’d just curated a show “Diary Drawing,” at The Centre for Recent Drawing, with Ariel Schrag and Miriam Katin. So I already knew a few Jewish comic artists but I didn’t realize there were quite so many making autobiographical comics!

The project snowballed from there, and it’s been touring for three, four years. It’s opening in Miami at the end of the month, at the Jewish Museum in Florida. The show is coming to London at the end of next year to a really great gallery called Space Station Sixty-Five. We’re going to be doing a one-day symposium about Jewish women comic artists at JW3, the new Jewish Community Centre for London, and we’re looking to do a study day as well for artists.

I just finished editing the book about the exhibition, and it’s about 400 pages. It will be published by McFarland, and it’s got essays and interviews, information and images about all the artists in the show. It’s going to be the first book ever published to focus on Jewish women in comics.

DD: What other work have you done to promote the work of women in the comics field, particularly Jewish women?

SL: When the exhibition opened in New York, I co-chaired a symposium with two New York academics, Tahneer Oksman and Amy Feinstein. I’ve just written a chapter about Diane Noomin’s comic, called “Baby Talk: A Tale of Four Miscarriages” that’s in Trauma Narratives and Herstory published by Palgrave Macmillan. None of the other essays in the collection were about graphic novels and it’s always great to bring comics to a new audience. I’ve written for websites, books and newspapers about Jewish women and comics. For example, I contributed to 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die, so I wrote about Charlotte Salomon, Ariel Schrag, Gabrielle Bell. I can make sure these women get included in collections. I also wrote about Jewish Women and Comics for the new Routledge Handbook to Contemporary Jewish Cultures(2014). Most recently I wrote for the Canadian website “A Bit off the Top” on the Israeli comic artist Ilana Zeffren.

I’m also doing a doctorate on autobiographical comics at University of Glasgow: “The Drawn Wound: Hurting and Healing in Autobiographical Comics.” I’m really interested in traumatic narratives and how people draw and visualize their lives and whether there’s potential for something called Post Traumatic Growth. It’s the idea that if something terrible happens, your life can change for the better. I’m especially interested in exploring how the creative process of making comics can make a difference.

In addition, I’m looking at how Jewish women have been written out of Jewish textual history and intellectual history, and how they’re using comics now to ensure their voices and life experiences are heard and recorded.