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Local artist adds superhero flair to prayer book

VALERIE SATUREN
Special to the AJP

Muscle-bound superheroes and Hebrew blessings may seem like an unusual combination, but to local artist Howard Salmon, it’s a combination that can renew interest in Judaism and enhance Jewish learning. Salmon’s “Comic Book Siddur” contains all the prayers for Saturday morning Shabbat services, printed side-by-side with snappy translations and comic book style illustrations.
The idea came to Salmon in May 2007 as he prepared to become an adult Bar Mitzvah. While studying his Torah portion, he began sketching a mini comic book called “Bar Mitzvah Comics.” It was a small project, encompassing eight pages of cut and paste material, but it sparked the idea of creating a full-length siddur. He brought the idea to Assistant Rabbi Benjamin Sharff of Temple Emanu-El, who agreed to edit the book. “There were a lot of difficult theological decisions” regarding the translations, says Salmon, and Sharff was instrumental in that process.
To Sharff, it is no coincidence that Jewish artists, including Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, have played a key role in the comic book industry. Many of the most popular comic book characters, he notes, “were picked on and faced tremendous challenges but now stand up for what’s right in the world. In many ways, that model is based on the Jewish people.”
Salmon says the siddur is aimed at helping students prepare for their B’nai Mitzvah, just as creating comics helped him prepare for his own Bar Mitzvah. “I wanted to make studying for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah have the thrills and excitement of reading a comic book,” he says. “If you like comic books and you’re struggling to study for your Bar Mitzvah, this book can help you learn Hebrew and study the prayers in an enjoyable way.” The siddur has also proved useful as a prayer supplement for kids, especially those who are having trouble with their Hebrew.
Lori Riegel, an account executive at the Arizona Jewish Post and a Hebrew teacher at Temple Emanu-El, plans to use the comic book with her fourth graders and during the services she leads at Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging. “It has everything in there,” she says. “It’s entertaining for the kids, but there are layers for the adults, too.”
Salmon graduated from the University of Arizona in 1985 with a degree in philosophy and earned his MFA from the university in 2002. He says he has wanted to be a comic book artist all his life, inspired by Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Captain America artist Jack Kirby, graphic artist Jim Steranko, and pop art pioneers Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Creating the book enabled him “to blend two interests: drawing a graphic novel and engaging my spirituality.”
“Comic Book Siddur” can be ordered online at comic booksiddur.com or purchased at the Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Anshei Israel gift shops. Salmon is available for speaking engagements and other educational events. He can be reached at hsalmon@howardsalmon.com.
Valerie Saturen received her M.A. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona in 2007. She lives in Tucson.