Jews and superhero comics -- Michael Chabon famously explored the theme in The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier & Clay. But of course that Pulitzer-winning novel was partly inspired by real comics history: Pioneering man-in-tights Superman was created in 1932 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two teen-agers living in Cleveland who were both the sons of Jewish immigrants.
But even if we weren't in a summer replete with superhero movies, Pittsburgh's ToonSeum has the perfect excuse to delve further into the matter with its current exhibit, Superheroes: Origins and Icons. The show features original artwork of a passel of caped (and uncaped) crusaders, and Superman isn't the only one with Jewish ancestry. Artists, writers and entrepreneurs including Will Eisner, Bob Kane, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, to name just a few, were instrumental in comics in the medium's Golden and Silver ages.
The ToonSeum's new Comic Arts Lecture Series begins at 7 p.m. Thu., June 1, with an overview of superhero comics by local comics scholar and writer Wayne Wise. Wise is not only an associate professor at Chatham College; as manager of Oakland's Phantom of the Attic comics, he's also a fully fledged afficionado. His talk will focus on how comics were influence by immigration and the New Deal.
The lecture series continues on July 7, with Copacetic Comics owner Bill Boichdel presenting on the art of Jack Kirby, the artist behind iconic renderings of Captain America, The Fanstastic Four and The X-Men.
Meanwhile, if the new incarnations of Thor, Captain American, X-Men and Green Lantern in theaters this summer are not enough for you, ToonSeum hosts its own superhero film series of animated and documentary films.
That series continues at 7 p.m. Thu., June 16, with All-Star Superman (2011), an adaptation of Grant Morrison's landmark 12-issue comic series. The PG-rated narrative, which finds Superman confronting his mortality, features the voices of James Denton, Christina Hendricks and Anthony LaPaglia. It will be presented with a selection of non-superhero shorts, including vintage 1940s work from Fleischer Studios masterpieces. More feature films follow at later dates.
All the above events are free and take place at the ToonSeum, 945 Liberty Ave., Downtown (www.toonseum.org).