Judaism Unbound Episode 81: Diaspora Boy - Eli Valley

Artist and writer Eli Valley joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about his newly-released book Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel. [1] Valley brings the insight and passion that is well-known to readers of his comics to the episode, as we discuss the politics of American Jewish life, Israel, and more, all through the lens of his provocative comics. [2]

To play the episode, click the arrow button above. To download, hover over the player, click share (on the right), and then choose download by clicking the cloud.

Image Credit: Loubna Mrie, Haaretz

Image Credit: Loubna Mrie, Haaretz

(0:01 - 11:11): Valley begins the episode by discussing the process by which he creates his comics. He also compares and contrasts the modalities of comics and opinion pieces, which he has also published in the past.  Through a conversation about Valley's "The Incredible Hulk" comic, he [3] and the co-hosts explore the unique power that comes from the visual medium of comics. Valley also provides his perspective on an issue that arises in much of his work: the large disconnect between many Jewish institutional leaders and the broader population of American Jews.

(11:12 - 29:26): Through the example of Israeli politicians that he has depicted in his comics, Valley describes his experiences being criticized by those who read his comics merely for quoting statements uttered in public by Jewish leaders. He then provides a few examples of comics of his that embody a few of the key messages he often is looking to convey. First he mentions "Code-Name Evangelator," [4] which comments on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apparent preference for Evangelical Christians, when contrasted with liberal American Jews. [5] Following that, he describes the recurring character of Stuart, an old, curmudgeonly Jewish turtle that helps to illustrate some of the generational and political divides present in American Jewish life. [6] He also re-visits an issue that came up in the 2016 Presidential election, where Bernie Sanders's Jewishness was compared, often negatively, to that of Joe Lieberman's. He explains why those comparisons were often quite offensive, and why they help to summarize some of the most important divides in the Jewish world. [7]

Image Credit: Eli Valley

Image Credit: Eli Valley

(29:27 - 45:49): Valley reflects on the ways in which his family influenced him growing up. He also explores a question posed by Dan regarding parallels between the goals of his comics and the goals of the Biblical Prophets. He brings up the organization IfNotNow as filling a similar role, holding Jewish institutional leaders accountable for their actions related to Israel, American politics, and more. [8] To close, Valley looks back on a counter-intuitive genre of comics that has been very influential for him. Terming them "B-horror" or "B-noir," he explores some of the reasons that their "knock-off" nature, lacking some of the rules present in mainstream comics, may actually have helped them operate more creatively and effectively on occasion.

[1] To purchase Diaspora Boy in paperback or e-book formats, click here.

[2] For a recent article on Valley and his book, we recommend this recent piece in Haaretz, by Debra Nussbaum Cohen.

[3] To read "The Incredible Hulk," originally published in 2008, click here.

[4] To read "Code-Name Evangelator," originally published in 2011, click here.

[5] For more on Benjamin Netanyahu's relationship to Evangelical Christians, read this piece from The Times of Israel, entitled "Netanyahu: Evangelical Christians are Israel's Best Friends."

[6] For the first ever Stuart the Jewish Turtle comic, click here. For his later appearances, click here ("Stuart the Jewish Turtle goes to South Africa"), here ("Stuart the Jewish Turtle Occupies Wall Street"), or here ("Stuart the Jewish Turtle Feels the Bern").

Image Credit: Eli Valley

Image Credit: Eli Valley

[7] For an article discussing the contrasting Jewish reactions to Joe Lieberman's Vice-Presidential run and Bernie Sanders's Presidential run, see "Why Bernie Sanders Isn't Beating Joe Lieberman on Jewish Pride." To hear from Dan and Lex on this subject, listen to Episode 14: Putting the "American" in American Judaism

[8] Learn more about IfNotNow by visiting IfNotNowMovement.org.