“Judaism is the world’s most obsessive-compulsive book club,” says Aaron Freeman, standup comic, Storahtelling-certified Torah Maven, and occasional Jewschool contributor. “Every week, religous Jews read a portion or “parsha” of the Hebrew Bible, so that at the end of a year we’ve read the whole thing. Then we start all over again.”
In 2006, Aaron discovered a program called Comic Life and set out to create a weekly visual midrash. Originally illustrated with photoshopped pictures and titled “52 Parshas,” the strip evolved into the Comic Torah as his wife, artist Sharon Rosenzweig, offered to lend her considerable talents to the project if only Aaron would “stop sucking up to the rabbis.”
For three years, Aaron and and Sharon lived the book club life together:
Our life revolved around the comic. On Saturdays, we would gather up our favorite translations of the Torah. Sharon likes Everett Fox, Aaron likes Gunther Plautt. We also had a parallel translation, Rabbi Hertz, the Ryrie Study Bible Hebrew English dictionary, all the various Art Scroll versions and of course, once Shabbos was over, Chabad.org. Jews around the world read the same section of Torah each week, such that they read the whole thing in a year. We would read the portion one week ahead so our comic would be ready for distribution in sync with all the other Jews.
One of us would read aloud while the other followed along, interrupting when the translations varied or when something particularly outrageous inspired us to look at the footnote commentary from the rabbis. Eventually we would get through the whole thing and then start discussing what part our story would focus on. This conversation would continue through Sunday, and on Monday morning Aaron would write a script, usually with notes on what the images would be. Then we would fight and draw and write some more and re-draw, and emerge bloody but happy on Tuesday with a pencil draft of the comic. These were scanned into Photoshop, inked and colored on Wednesday and Thursday and sent out to our global mailing list in time for Shabbat.
Over the years, the strip’s story line was polished and its iconography evolved. God (spelled YHWH) became pictured as a green-tinged Sharon Rosenzweig lookalike (unorthodox, yet arguably less offensive than R. Crumb’s old man with a beard). She also picked up a pantheon, as Aaron and Sharon decided that Elohim should be literally translated as “gods”. (My seven-year-old isn’t too happy about that twist in the Comic Torah; she also disapproves of the occasional nudity and graphic violence. Her nine-year-old brother is less offended.)
As Sharon told the Forward:
At first, we avoided depicting the deity, or used old white men, but in our first go at the Akeda, I read god as a bully, which reminded me of my big brother, Larry, so I used him as a model. Later, when God appeared in the burning bush, a flirtation developed IN THE DRAWING, which was completely unexpected. I thought of it as my brother Larry as a girl, but that seemed like a stretch, and since Aaron was already playing Moses, it seemed logical that I play YHWH. After that, we read each parsha looking for the relationship developments.
I discovered the Comic Torah on Jewschool’s sister site, Radical Torah, and reached out to Aaron about publishing the Comic Torah through Ben Yehuda Press. But the economics of color printing didn’t seem to make it feasible… until I discovered Kickstarter.com this summer. Kickstarter is designed to let a community come together to fund a project. Projects have included books, films, video games, records and even crossword puzzles. Fan support a project by pledging money (and giving Amazon their payment information.) The cool catch is that credit cards are only charged if the whole project comes together.
So I started a Comic Torah fundraising drive on Kickstarter.com, to pay for the costs of printing the first edition. If we get enough support, the Comic Torah will be printed as a graphic novel, suitable for gifting.
In exchange for your pledges, you get rewards. Most importantly, a $22 pledge will get you an autographed copy of the published book. (If the project doesn’t get fully funded, you pay nothing, but Aaron and Sharon will know that you love them!)
Currently, with 81 supporters, we’re more than a third of the way toward our goal. A few more supporters will make a big difference, so if you’ve loved the Comic Torah, think about preordering a printed copy or two.
If this is the first you’ve heard of it, then in the spirit of Simchat Torah, start at the beginning. Or check out the introduction and highlight reel.
R. Crumb’s Genesis has been getting lots of press coverage , but The Comic Torah comes in full color, and includes the juicy parts of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy that R. Crumb leaves out. Plus, if you pledge now, you can have a custom-designed home-baked challah baked for you by Sharon — you won’t get that from R. Crumb!