CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 35. . . May 19, 2017
This modern classic graphic novel was first published in 2001 and collected in James Sturmís America in 2007. The current iteration, with an introduction by Gene Luen Yang, will introduce this historical story to a wider readership.
Set chiefly in the last half of August 1922, the work focuses upon two baseball games played by the travelling Stars of David. The teamís manager, Noah Strauss, also serves as a narrator as shown in the excerpt that begins the novel. Gradually the reader learns that Strauss is a former Boston Red Sox player with bad knees. While the team is promoted as exotic bearded Jews and world champions, in reality the youngest player, 16-year-old Mo (Moishe), Straussís younger brother, sports a shoe-polish beard. Another player, African American Hershl Bloom, posing as a member of the lost tribe of Israel, is really Henry Bell, a 20-year veteran of the Negro Leagues. In the world of sports marketing, truth is less important than a good line that will draw in a paying crowd. The gritty reality of the situation infuses the story. America of 1922 is a racist land where anti-Semitism and Jim Crow segregation are the norm and loudly on display. Fortunately, the good side of humanity is also apparent when Mo shares his knowledge and love of baseball with some locals, turning what started out as a bad situation into a shared experience of respect and friendship. There is hope amidst the grit of life.
Faced with mounting bills and a broken down bus, Strauss turns to a promoter for help. His gimmick: market the team as having a mythical golem, described as a Jewish medieval monster. First baseman and sometimes pitcher, Henry/Hershl will be ideal as the promoter explains in a word balloon:
Foreshadowing of troubles ahead comes courtesy of one playerís explanation of a golem to Mo
Sturmís black line drawings with light grey shading are clean and his lettering easy-to-read. His decision to use full-page images of promotional broadsides to introduce each section of the novel is masterful. Each contains many details that provide contextual information that readers will want to return to. For readers unfamiliar with the history of segregation in America and the way this spilled over into sports, The Golemís Mighty Swing can serve as a wonderful educational tool. To help younger readers appreciate the story more fully, teachers and parents may want to include some additional guidance. Sturmís Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, or introductions to the life of Jackie Robinson and the history of the Negro leagues may be good supplementary reads. For all readers, a careful reading and rereading of The Golemís Mighty Swing will continue to educate as well as entertain. What more can one expect from a novel?
James Sturm is the cofounder and director of the Center for Cartoon Studies. His comics, writings and illustrations appeared in numerous publications. He has taught and exhibited his work throughout the world.
Val Ken Lem is a librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON, a bibliographer and a relatively new fan of graphic storytelling.
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