Dias­po­ra Boy: Comics on Cri­sis in Amer­i­ca and Israel

  • Review
By – May 16, 2017

Car­toons can be a pow­er­ful medi­um for self-reflec­tion. Par­tic­u­lar types of comics force the read­er to dis­as­so­ci­ate him- or her­self from the child­ish con­no­ta­tion comics have been giv­en in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion; comics aren’t sim­ply meant to enter­tain, although they often do that. At their most didac­tic, comics elu­ci­date mat­ters of con­tem­po­rary con­cern in ways that are more acces­si­ble, more artis­tic, and more acer­bic than print (tra­di­tion­al or dig­i­tal) can con­vey alone. And when it comes to the man­i­fold issues that affect mod­ern Jew­ish life — espe­cial­ly Jew­ish con­ti­nu­ity and prac­tice, and the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian issue — no one bet­ter encap­su­lates the pet­ti­ness, grand­stand­ing, and internecine para­noia than Eli Valley.

Indeed, Valley’s new col­lec­tion of comics and illus­tra­tions, Dias­po­ra Boy: Comics on Cri­sis in Amer­i­ca and Israel, is as much a blunt instru­ment as it is a care­ful­ly-craft­ed mir­ror on Jew­ish com­mu­nal affairs. Val­ley cracks the veneer of per­ceived elites in mod­ern Jew­ish and Zion­ist-ori­ent­ed orga­ni­za­tions who blovi­ate and draw atten­tion to them­selves rather than oppor­tu­ni­ties for dia­logue and mutu­al understanding.

In the book’s pref­ace, Val­ley writes a telling line: I do think the free­dom to pil­lo­ry pow­er­ful peo­ple, orga­ni­za­tions, and ideas with­in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty is shrink­ing — almost as if the Amer­i­can Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty is begin­ning to mir­ror Israeli polit­i­cal cul­ture in the flight from the demo­c­ra­t­ic norms.” Indeed, the many real-life (and well-known) fig­ures and Jew­ish move­ments that appear in the book aren’t spared from Valley’s vision of their malfea­sance — right­ly or wrong­ly — in pur­su­ing inter­ests that are per­ceived detri­men­tal to the nor­ma­tive, eth­i­cal vision of Judaism.

Valley’s art acts as the great equal­iz­er, a spear to the heart of entrenched inter­ests that do noth­ing to move the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty for­ward in mean­ing­ful ways. He does not spare any­one on the polit­i­cal spec­trum, right or left (though the lat­ter is depict­ed more often), from the holy vitu­per­a­tion of his pen and paper exco­ri­a­tions. But his expan­sive­ly-com­posed illus­tra­tions — rem­i­nis­cent of both the under­ground work of R. Crumb and the anar­chic sur­re­al­i­ty of MAD with the whim­sy of Cha­gall thrown in for good mea­sure — not only shake foun­da­tions, but also pro­vide the rare oppor­tu­ni­ty for individual/​communal self-reflection.

Undoubt­ed­ly, Valley’s cor­pus of work col­lect­ed in Dias­po­ra Boy is designed to make the read­er uncom­fort­able (this author includ­ed). Any­one who sup­ports the Zion­ist enter­prise — whether they are lib­er­al or con­ser­v­a­tive — may find the comics con­tained with­in this vol­ume dif­fi­cult to read and inter­nal­ize. That is the point. Valley’s comics can be cru­el, but the issues he depicts are just as cru­el. And through it all, he tack­les his sub­jects with hon­esty and an astute under­stand­ing of their core essence. While many may not real­ize it or refuse to believe it, the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty needs these non­con­formist voic­es more than ever.

Discussion Questions