Trina Robbins's latest project hits closer to home than anything before, as it's those of her departed father that she never knew for 70+ years.
A Minyen Yidn (translated from Yiddish as ‘A Bunch of Jews')' is an upcoming graphic novel anthology based on the long out-of-print and long-lost Yiddish book that her father, Max B. Perlson, published in 1938. The stories are a snapshot of New York City in the 1930s, with stories about real people akin to Will Eisner’s A Contract With God or the journalism of Studs Turkel. A Kickstarter campaign is currently underway to fund the book, which can be viewed here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hopelnicholson/a-minyan-yidn-a-graphic-novel-by-trina-robbins
“A Minyen Yidn was written in Yiddish and thought lost by everyone in my family, but then my daughter found a copy on the internet and I bought it. Since then it’d been put in digital form to be read, but only if you read Yiddish,” said Robbins. “So she found it, I bought it, and had it translated. Once that was done, I realized that these were great stories – snapshots of time long gone – and it should be a graphic novel.”
Although Robbins knew of her father’s writing as something discussed within her family, she’d never actually read his published work until happenstance re-connected her with his 1938 book. The book and the ensuing project gave her the opportunity to reconnect with her departed father’s life, and make up for past regrets.
“I grew up with a father who was a writer, but only wrote in Yiddish,” said Robbins. “In New York City at the time, there were several Yiddish language newspapers and he wrote small bits for them. As a girl, I was a wretched little ungrateful – I wanted to be American, and was embarrassed to have a father who wrote in Yiddish. I wanted to be like everyone else, and I was always so embarrassed about what he wrote. But now, I realize his stories are great – really well-written. This project is almost an atonement for me overlooking it during my childhood.”
After finding a copy of the book online, Robbins hired someone to translate the book and went about transforming it into a comic book script. To make it even more of a personal affair, Robbins recruited from the pool of artists she’d become friends to after her years in the business to bring this unique anthology about Jewish life to life.
“So I wrote a script and made a wish list of artists to work on it, and to be perfectly honest, most of them said yes. A couple backed out because they had other projects, but I think by and large we got most everyone,” said Robbins. “I simply wanted people who could tell the stories best: good artists, good storytellers. It also helped that I picked people whom I knew, as they’d be more likely to say yes than a total stranger asking them. Some agreed, and some went ahead before it was a sure thing and drew up sample pages.”
Among the artists involved with the project is Michael Netzer, a long-time North American artist who worked on everything from Wonder Woman to Howard The Duck from the 1970s to now. Netzer, who lives in Israel now, said that his story is “very close to my heart.”
“Pre-Israel Jewish culture and history, alongside the plight of the diaspora communities, many who became early founders of modern Israel, are very close to my heart,” said Michael Netzer, who illustrates the story “Moyshe Henye’s.” “When Trina first told me about translating her father's written stories from his early 1900's Eastern European community, and that she's adapting them into comics form, I was happy to be included on her wish list of artists for the project. 'Moyshe Henye's' tells a story about the pitfalls of religious piety that I identified with immediately. The appearance of a human manifestation of God as a supporting character, who informs the reader about Moyshe's excessive religious zealotry, clinched it for me as the story to illustrate.”
Having professional friends bring her father's stories to comic book form made the project even more personal for Robbins - more than she realized, even.
“I never thought of it that way, but yes – it made it even more personal to be working with friends,” Robbins said. “But some are people who have also written about Judaism. For example, Miriam Katin wrote a graphic novel about her mother smuggling her out of Nazi-occupied Hungary. This story is something I thought she could understand. Miriam Libicki also has life experience, and I felt understood what I was doing. This isn’t all Israel, Ashkenazi Jews, type. But it’s a Jewish story.”
But to get the book published, Robbins lucked into a meeting with upstart publisher Hope Nicholson of Bedside Press – who has had a number of recent successes utilizing Kickstarter.
“I met her at the Toronto Comic & Art Festival (TCAF), but we had e-mailed previously because she did a reprinting of Nelvana of the Northern Lights and knew I liked women superheroes. So we talked about that, I met her in person and really liked her – I hoped she liked me too!” said Robbins. Shortly after that, she put together The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, which was a great little book. So anyway, I told her about A Minyen Yiden and what I wanted to do. I wasn’t even asking her to help, but she said ‘I’d like to publish that.’ Wonderful!”
If A Minyan Yidn reaches its Kickstarter funding goal, it will be Bedside Press’ fifth successful fundraising campaign – but for Robbins, it made for some anxious moments.
“I’m a nervous wreck,” admitted Robbins. “But I’m convinced it will happen.”
A Kickstarter campaign is currently underway to fund the book, which can be viewed here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hopelnicholson/a-minyan-yidn-a-graphic-novel-by-trina-robbins