Monday, March 15, 2010
Graphic Novel Monday: Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid, by Steve Sheinkin
Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid: A Graphic Novel of Dueling Jewish Folktales in the Wild West, by Steve Sheinkin. Published 2010 by Jewish Lights. Graphica. Fiction.
Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid is the third installment in artist/author Steve Sheinkin's series about an intrepid unibrowed rabbi dispensing Talmudic wisdom and justice in the Wild West. The only rabbi in the fictional small town of Elk Spring, Colorado, Rabbi Harvey gives out advice and battles bad guys like Big Milt Wasserman and Bad Bubbe Bloom. The first two volumes, The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey and Rabbi Harvey Rides Again, are structured as series of short stories; this volume represents Sheinkin's and Harvey's first foray into a book-length tale.
This time, trouble comes to town in the person of Rabbi Ruben, who calls himself "The Wisdom Kid." Astute readers will know that he's not all he's cracked up to be by the fact that he's also Bad Bubbe's son and the apple never falls far from the tree in Elk Spring. He's also slick and sneaky and is soon found taking advantage of the trusting townsfolk, who have come to revere the rather more reserved Rabbi Harvey but are nonetheless intrigued by the newcomer. Soon the two men realize that Elk Spring is too small for two rabbis, and when Rabbi Ruben conspires with bad guy Big Milt to put Harvey on ice, it'll take all of Rabbi Harvey's own cleverness and wisdom- and some help from fetching schoolteacher Abigail- to set things right.
I'm a big fan of Rabbi Harvey and of Sheinkin's previous two volumes, reviewed here and here. I love Sheinkin's unusual, woodcut-inspired art and his use of traditional Jewish folktales as narrative devices and storytelling sources. One of the things I really enjoy about Sheinkin's book is seeing familiar folktales retold and reshaped in the Old West idiom. I think one mark of good storytelling is being able to draw on the past and incorporate traditional forms into something wholly original and charming- exactly how I'd describe the Rabbi Harvey series.
The third volume is likewise very successful and I like the way Sheinkin weaves lots of folktales into a coherent story that's still fun to read. Those with an interest in Jewish folktales will appreciate the "Story Sources," listing sources chapter by chapter, and "Suggestions for Further Reading" listing some excellent collections of Jewish folktales as well as some great graphic novels. The series is also relentlessly family-friendly and suitable for sharing with children. Harvey might always win in the end, but there's really no way to lose with this fantastic series.
You can go here to see my interview with Steve Sheinkin as well.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the author.