At first glance, it appeared that a downtown Toronto coffee shop, Jet Fuel Coffee, was propagating anti-Semitic sentiment by hanging a series of art pieces entitled “The Jew Funnies” on their walls. Taking offense to the art, a man entered the store and began removing two of the pieces, forcibly attempting to drive off with the pieces in his van. He was quickly apprehended for his robbery attempt, but all the while the man expressed that his goal was to censor the shop for its display of the offensive art.
A series of three graphic novel-style panel cartoons from artist Eric Farache, the images ranged from depictions of the famous Arch of Titus Menorah stone relief, where ancient Romans are depicted sacking a Jewish temple, to text calling Noam Chomsky the “number one enemy of Israel.” Without any further information about the series, it is possible to see how the potential robber interpreted the images and words to be anti-Semitic, but in a twist of events, what started as a knee-jerk reaction to censor a Cabbagetown coffee shop quickly turned into a gross misinterpretation of the artwork altogether.
Not only is artist Eric Farache a practicing member of the Sephardic Orthodox Jewish community, his goal with his art is to tell the story of his own personal experiences as a young Jewish student in Toronto. Depicting a real-life experience and conversation that he had with an elderly gentleman after a service in his youth, Farache’s goal is to collect these and other panel-style pieces into a book that will capture that conflicts and misconceptions that plague contemporary Jews like himself.
As David Jager of Now Toronto sums up Farache’s impressions of his work:
Told in a loose, impressionistic sketchbook style, The Jew Funnies are less about finger-pointing and more about trying to remain faithful to one’s cultural and religious heritage in a community that is often divisive, fragmented, and carries extreme views on every point of the political spectrum.
Farache further notes:
Being a Sephardic Orthodox Jew makes you a bit of an outsider among outsiders within the Jewish community here in Toronto… The cartoon is something which talks about how difficult it is to have a discussion. Maybe all Jews in diaspora have this conflicted relationship to Israel. I think the important thing for me is to not be blankly going along with the way any society operates.
For Farache, his art is expression of his feelings as a modern Jew in contemporary society and it is reflected by the mixed, confused, and ambiguous message depicted in his artwork, the misinterpretation of which incited the attempted robbery of his work by another member of the Jewish community.
What this incident demonstrates is that people can also have knee-jerk reactions and resort to acts of violence in an attempt to censor images and words that challenge their personal views—whether it be satirically or introspectively. In the wake of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, we can be grateful that this was only an attempted robbery and not something more. As artists like Farache dedicate themselves to expressing their own internal conflicts, we can hope that works eventually incite conversation, not violence.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!