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Aline Kominsky-Crumb, who transformed comics first as a muse and then as a feminist artist, dies at 74

(JTA) — Robert Crumb put the “x” in comix by setting to paper his basest sexual longings, including strong-legged Jewish women who were cowgirls and who went by the name Honeybunch Kaminski.

So when an actual strong-legged Jewish cowgirl named Aline Kominsky walked into his life, it was love at first sight, and never wavered.

Aline Kominsky-Crumb, who died Wednesday at 74 in France of pancreatic cancer, was late to the revolution her husband launched in comics a few years before they met, with his Zap Comix. The “x” was a signifier of what was then known as “underground” comics and referred to the unfiltered treatment of humanity that censorious publishers, politicians and public figures had all but washed out of the art.

She soon fully embraced the art form and then helped transform it.

Working with her husband and then on her own, Kominsky-Crumb brought to comics raw self-lacerating accountability and subverted crude stereotypes about Jewish women — including those peddled by her husband — by taking possession of them.

She started out as a self-acknowledged sex object reviled by second-wave feminists and became a hero of younger feminists for modeling unfettered sexual expression. She was the brassy Jewish stereotype who became the muse who guided her husband to a deeper consideration of Judaism.

Kominsky-Crumb, born Aline Ricky Goldsmith in 1948 in the Five Towns, a Jewish enclave on Long Island, had a Jewish upbringing that was in many ways conventional, horrifying and both at the same time. She wrote about the warmth of her grandparents’ home and how she sought in it succor and about the pressures her materialistic parents placed on her. She said she was named for a Five Towns clothing store, Aline Ricky, that sold French fashion knockoffs. She resisted her mother’s pressure to get a nose job.

In one autobiographical comic, she recalls seeing one Jewish girl after another coming into school after plastic surgery. “Me ‘n’ my friends developed a ‘big nose pride,’” she writes, and one of the characters says, “I could not stand to look like a carbon copy!”

She told fellow Jewish cartoonist Sarah Lightman about the ordeal. “Like, I kept my nose, but it was really a close call, because my mother had me in Doctor Diamond’s office and he measured my nose. I remember that. They took an instrument and measured your nose. And then he took a piece of paper and he said,’ look, we can make it look like this.’ And I said, ‘Oh my God.’ My mother said, ‘Oh, it’s gorgeous, gorgeous.’”

In her teens, Kominsky-Crumb fled the suburbs for Manhattan. She studied at Cooper Union, an art school, and lived on the Lower East Side, earning plaudits from her instructors for her painting, but getting bored. She had a baby and gave it up for adoption to a Jewish agency, an experience that scarred her, and later led her to become outspoken in advocating for abortion rights.

After she married Carl Kominsky, they moved to Tucson, Arizona, which she called “hippie heaven.” There, she left her husband for a cowboy who lived with two brothers and his father in what she said was “the middle of nowhere” where she helped out on horseback, albeit under the influence of hallucinogens. (She said her beau was killed in a shootout with a romantic rival after she left.)

In Tucson, she met two pioneers of underground comics, Kim Deitch and Spain Rodriguez. They encouraged her to move to San Francisco, which was the scene of the burgeoning movement.

She did and met Crumb at a party in 1971, within three years of his having created “Honeybunch Kaminski, the drug-crazed runaway” (1968) and “Dale Steinberger, the Jewish Cowgirl.” Kominsky-Crumb, who had kept her first husband’s last name because it sounded more “ethnic” than Goldsmith, was so taken with the her husband’s lustful Jewish imaginings, and how closely she physically resembled them, that when she started creating her own, she named her avatar “Bunch,” a shortened version of the character whose name most closely matched her own.

It was kismet, except it wasn’t at first. Crumb and Kominsky-Crumb got together, but maintained open relationships. Crumb endured Kominsky-Crumb’s dalliances with other men for decades, but Kominsky-Crumb was not as able (or willing) to reciprocate. When one of Crumb’s exes arrived at their commune in Mendocino, she told The Comics Journal in 1990, she was furious. “I had a total s— fit,” she said, “I was wearing these giant platform shoes. I ran out the door and I fell and broke my foot in six places.”

Crumb sent the ex on her way and entertained the recovering Kominsky with a pastime he and his brother worked out as children: They would co-create a comic.

That process drew the couple closer, and also became a decades-long unflinching chronicle of a relationship. A culmination, “Drawn Together,” was critically acclaimed when it came out in 2012.

In one passage in the 2012 book, she gently chides her husband for resorting to antisemitic tropes — although it was tropes about loud, slightly unhinged, sexually voracious Jewish women that drew them together.

One page depicts the couple in bed. Crumb is stung by an accusation of antisemitism from Art Spiegelman. (Spiegelman joined with Crumb to launch the underground comics scene in the 1960s, but they grew apart as Spiegelman, who would author the Holocaust chronicle “Maus,” sought to attach an overarching philosophy to the genre, while Crumb continued to crave crude authenticity.)

Crumb says that Spiegelman “seems to be taking my ruminations about the Jews as antisemitism … I certainly didn’t mean it as such.” Kominsky-Crumb draws herself into the panel, listening to her husband, as a little girl wearing tefillin, a T-shirt with “kosher” in Hebrew and a Star of David pendant. In the next panel, once again appearing as a grown woman in a negligee, she makes clear to Crumb why she feels vulnerable as a Jew in the marriage.

“Dahling, you do call the Jewish religion ‘Brand X’,” she says.. “Now I might even think that’s true in some ways … and I’m one o’ them … I’m allowed to say that!”

Crumb draws himself as wounded but also awakened. “Oh, I see … ulp.” Crumb dedicated his masterwork, “The Book of Genesis,” a searing illustrated narrative of the Bible’s first book, to Aline.

The Crumbs’ collaborative work was celebrated among aficionados, but it wasn’t until 1994’s “Crumb,” a documentary directed by Crumb’s close Jewish friend, Terry Zwigoff, that she emerged into the broader culture. A vibrant, peripatetic Kominsky-Crumb cares for their daughter, Sophie, and revels in their life in a small French village, where they had moved a few years earlier, while Crumb continues to hold back, playing the wounded, misunderstood artist.

It was an arrival of sorts for Kominsky-Crumb. She had for a time been marginalized even on the underground scene, her deceptively simple art derided as sloppy. She helped found the Wimmen’s Comix collective in 1972, and wrote about her Jewish upbringing in the first issue, a piece entitled “Goldie: A Neurotic Woman.” But she was soon frozen out because some of her colleagues thought her musings about longing to be dominated (and her tendency to dress that way to please Crumb) were denigrating to women. “The Yoko Ono of Comics,” is how the New York Times described her early years.

She left the collective and joined another Jewish woman artist, Diane Noomin, in launching “Twisted Sisters” in 1976. Its cover depicts hers seated on a toilet wondering “How many calories in a cheese enchilada.” The message to her erstwhile colleagues, who depicted women heroically, was clear: Kominsky-Crumb would indulge her full unvarnished self.

It would take decades, but a later generation of feminists would come to understand her autobiographical “Bunch” not as a self-loathing caricature but as a means of understanding ones whole self. In 2020, Lightman launched an interview with Kominsky-Crumb by reviewing a 1975 cartoon, “Bunch plays with herself” that shocked even the underground scene at the time with its graphic depictions of a woman exploring every corner of her body.

“I didn’t do it to be disgusting but it’s, like, about every horrible and fun thing you can do with your body,” Kominsky-Crumb told Lightman. “I think it’s an amazing piece of feminist art,” Lightman said in the interview, “because women are drawn to be gazed at, and [here we see] their bodily juices, and everything. … The last panel is the best. ‘My body is an endless source of entertainment’.”

In 2007, she and Crumb created a cover for the Jewish counterculture magazine Heeb, where she is cradling him in her arms. “”I feel so safe in the arms of this powerful Jewish woman!” Crumb says.

By 2018, she was scrolling through her phone to show a New York Times reporter pictures of Crumb cavorting with the grandkids. (Daughter Sophie in adulthood also is a comics artist.) The photos then transition to photos of women’s behinds, taken in Miami.

“I’m enabling his big butt fixation,” she said. “Well I don’t have a big butt anymore so I have to offer him something.”

“It was her energy that transformed the American Crumb family into a Southern French one, with her daughter Sophie living, marrying and having three French children there,” the official Crumb website said in announcing her death. “She will be dearly missed within that family, by the international cartooning community, but especially by Robert, who shared the last 50 years of his life with her.”


The post Aline Kominsky-Crumb, who transformed comics first as a muse and then as a feminist artist, dies at 74 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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A number of speakers addressed the crowd of 800, including Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun-Herzlia Congregation; Members of Parliament Ben Carr & Marty Morantz; Yolanda Papini-Pollock of Winnipeg Friends of Israel; Paula McPherson, former Brock Corydon teacher; and Gustavo Zentner, President of the Jewish Federation.

Ben Carr

Click here to watch Ben Carr’s remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crfREGNRKfg

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