Comic books may be known for superheroes and genre fiction, but former DC Comics editor Jordan Gorfinkle is working to prove that the medium can also tell some of the most powerful stories in the Torah with his “The Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel.”
Published by Koren Publishers, the “Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel” touts itself as the first graphic novel to tell the linear story of Passover.
“Adapting the non-linear Passover Haggadah story into a comic book was a great challenge for my career,” Gorfinkel said. “I wanted it to be authentic and true to the Haggadah.”
Working more as an editor than a writer, Gorfinkel adapted the Haggadah by using a translated version of the text from David Olivestone of Teaneck, New Jersey, a former Orthodox Union official who translated the text for the NCSY Haggadah.
Although there have been other illustrated Haggadot, Gorfinkel’s version is the first to use sequential art as a means to adapt the stories and lessons of the Haggadah. Gorfinkle has extensive experience in the comic book industry through his work with DC Comics. Specifically, he worked on the Batman and Birds of Prey comic series in the mid-’90s.
Gorfinkel said the idea for the Haggadah came to him after he and another Jewish editor at DC wondered why nobody had ever created a work like the “The Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel.”
After leaving DC Comics, Gorfinkel took up residence in Cleveland to work in several freelance positions and taught cartooning classes at local synagogues and Jewish camps. He also used the time to launch his own website, jewishcartoon.com, where he posts a weekly Jewish comic strip called “Everything’s Relative.”
During that time, he also started research for the Haggadah graphic novel, as well as looking for the right artist.
The images that accompany the words were conceived and planned by Gorfinkle himself and he used some interesting choices to help tell the story. For example, there is an omniscient talking goat that acts as the narrator.
Drawn by Israeli artist Erez Zadok, the graphic novel features a dynamic artistic style that displays some of the most well-known scenes from Exodus. Gorfinkle described the artwork as similar to that of a Marvel superhero comic. He said the art should be grand and inviting to its readers.
Zadok is a graduate of Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem. Gorfinkel wanted to have an Israeli artist to draw the graphic novel because, “if you get an Israeli artist and call for an exterior of Bnei Brak or Jerusalem, all he has to do is walk outside. He’s living the history.”
Gorfinkel said the graphic novel took years to make and fund. Its release was made possible with the help of different crowdfunding campaigns and donors.
One of those donors is Valley resident and comic book reviewer for the website comicsbeat.com, AJ Frost. He said the graphic novel is a blessing to have and he plans on using it as his main Haggadah for future Seder dinners. The graphic novel was released in January and is available through retailers and online markets.
One of the perks of giving a certain amount of money to the campaign was to have Zadok draw the donor into the book. Frost and his late father, Robert, make an appearance.
“Ever since my dad passed away several years ago, I’ve tried to honor his legacy through tzedekah and good deeds in his memory,” said Frost, who also serves at as senior director of operations and assistant to the president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash. “I, of course, thought having my Pop in the Haggadah would mean that there would be a representation of him in a work that will hopefully be around for decades.”
For him, the “Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel” is a functional ritual object and a different comic book experience.
The strength of the book is that it truly does act like a Haggadah. The right side of the book contains the Haggadah’s Hebrew text. On the left side is the comic book format with the English translations in word balloons.
“There are thousands of variations of the Haggadah throughout the centuries, but this is the first to meld the structure of comics to the structure of the Seder,” Frost said. “It brings an interest to those who are tired of the run-of-the-mill Haggadah while being an enjoyable way to interact with the holiday.”
Frost explained that as the language and interest in the graphic novel media grows with each passing year, “the need to create unique and singular pieces of art that stand out is imperative.”
Frost gave the book his highest recommendation and hopes that it’ll be around for a long time to come. As for Gorfinkel, he hopes to keep adapting more Jewish stories in the sequential art format.
“I want to do Jewish history,” Gorfinkel said, “telling the stories of Zionism and great and inspiring Jews, to inspire the Jewish people.” JN