Pictures are everywhere. Glossy moments captured in photography and video have become so pervasive that in September Merriam-Webster defined "Instagram" as a verb. Against this polished landscape, there is something intimate and personal about images sketched by the human hand. This personal touch is inherent in cartoons and graphic novels, which can touch readers with emotion and sly humor, even when the subject is serious.
The graphic novel field is expanding with a range of new titles categorized as graphic memoirs and graphic non-fiction. These books often tackle important topics in ways that aren't linear, literately drawing connections between past and present and between experiences and ideas.
Of course, this idea isn't new. It's been 27 years since Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize for Maus, his haunting, groundbreaking portrayal of his father's Holocaust experiences. Cartoonist Alison Bechdel explained the influence of Maus in an interview with HuffPostLive. Bechdel, author of Fun House, a bestselling graphic novel that was adapted into a Broadway musical, said, "Comics were once for superhero action stories. That was pretty much all they did, and then people started pushing the boundaries. Spiegelman's Maus changed comics forever. Comics now can be about anything-any topic that's as serious as you can come up with."
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt (Bloomsbury 2018) is a new book that steps into this space, unexpectedly illustrating the life-and trailblazing ideas-of philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt. Created by Chicago-based New Yorker cartoonist Ken Krimstein, the book has been receiving well-deserved attention-and will soon be receiving more.
From March 14 to June 23, The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt will be the focus of an exhibition in Spertus Institute's Ground Level Arts Lab. Visitors will be able to see Krimstein's original illustrations, sketches, and artwork. They will be able to vicariously experience Hannah Arendt's pre-WWII life in Weimar, Germany, a time in which she could be found debating new ideas with intellectuals, artists, writers, and thinkers-including Marc Chagall, Marlene Dietrich, Walter Benjamin, Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud. They will be able to explore Krimstein's portrayal of Arendt's evolving thinking, as she escaped Nazi Germany and then faced new challenges in New York City.
Krimstein spent two-and-a-half years reading Arendt's work, including her powerful landmark 1951 publication, The Origins of Totalitarianism. As he dug deeper, everything about her drew him in. He said, "The breadth of her thinking blew me away. I've been so influenced by what she has to say about art, poetry, and people, beyond totalitarianism. Her character really appealed to me because she was very strong, questioning, and bold, and I tried to show that. She was so engaged with the world and took it so seriously that she sometimes made mistakes, but she never did anything in half measures."
By unconventionally using graphic non-fiction to illustrate a world of ideas, Krimstein brings urgency to Arendt's struggle to find meaning. He creatively introduces a key chapter of the Jewish experience and shines a spotlight on its relevance for today.
You will have an opportunity to meet the author Ken Krimstein at the exhibition's opening reception, Thursday, March 14 from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. at Spertus Institute. At 6:30 p.m., Krimstein will be interviewed by Alexandra Salomon, editor of WBEZ's Curious City, followed by a book signing. They will be talking about his influences, artistic process, and the unique ways that hand-drawn illustrations can tell important stories. Copies of The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt will be for sale.
Betsy Gomberg reads (and sometimes writes) about Jewish books. She is Spertus Institute's Director of Marketing and Communications.