I picked up a lot of interesting stuff at MoCCA, and flipped through even more, but I chose to write about this one first because it hit home for me in some ways and was utterly alien in others.
Miriam Libicki, creator of Jobnik! is like me an American Jewish girl born in the early 80s who loves comics. But Libicki moved to Jerusalem and enlisted in the IDF, and I went to college in New Orleans and volunteered for lefty political campaigns. I’m endlessly fascinated by people who do things that I’d never in a million years have the courage–or lack of impulse control–to do, but when I came to Libicki’s MoCCA table I didn’t know her story, just that she had a bunch of oversized not-quite-comics with gorgeous art and Jewish and Israeli themes.
The one I walked away with was “Towards a Hot Jew: the Israeli soldier as fetish object,” which Libicki calls a “drawn essay” and is pretty indicative of a title that will appeal to me.
Soldiers and military personnel in general receive the projections of an entire society, an entire world. They represent the country and absorb and absolve its sins, take bullets for it, are hailed as the “Greatest Generation” or reviled as “baby-killers.”
Libicki delves into territory that I explored not too long ago with Jeffrey Goldberg in his book Prisoners. Both Libicki and Goldberg served in the Israeli military, and Goldberg is explicit in his early chapters in his reasoning for joining up: he wanted to live out the “muscular Jew” fantasy.
Libicki, here, walks us through the popular conception of Diaspora Jews in the 20th century. The common stereotype is that Jewish men are nebbishy, neurotic Woody Allen characters, while women are loud, overbearing, and materialistic. Both of these stereotypes are curiously nonsexual, Libicki notes, and so the Jewish imagination perhaps longs for something sexier.
The choice to illustrate this essay, to make it a comic in some sense, is interesting, because the popular stereotype of comic readers is very close to the nonsexual Jewish male stereotype. The unathletic nerd who holes up in books and fantasies, right? Superheroes and war heroes, in comics, are a mental way out for the person who can’t be that in real life. Except with the option of the military, you can!
The Israeli army has a reputation the world over for being elite (despite including men and women, a subject for another time) and ruthless, for being some of the most efficient and skilled fighters out there. Krav Maga, the Israeli army form of hand-to-hand combat, is now taught to suburban families and Hollywood stars who will never need self-defense skills to keep in shape. (I’ve done it. It’s tough. And great fun. And does indeed make you feel sexy.)
Libicki traces the rise of the Jewish soldier as an alternate ideal along with the rise of Jewish “Birthright” trips to Israel, with the desire in an increasingly secular, diverse world for Jews to marry Jews and to keep the bloodline pure. She punctuates her essay with biographical notes (“though I have had both the most cited vaccinations, going to Israel and attending Jewish private school, it is looking as if I will marry out”) and citations from academics, quotes from friends, common Jewish jokes, and scholars.
Each page is hand-lettered in a faux typewriter font, and written around a lush, loving pencil drawing of an Israeli soldier, sexy, relaxed, often smiling, on one page holding a guitar in a muscled arm, on another pointing an automatic rifle off the page with a grin. The images are almost chilling in their beauty. They could be ads for the army; juxtaposed with Libicki’s deconstruction, they are disturbing.
Reading a “drawn essay” may not be for everyone, but it’s a startlingly effective way of getting a point across without too much academicese. Libicki’s art and observations have won me over, and I’ll be looking up Jobnik! next.