On today’s episode, we chat with the divine Roy Schwartz about his book Is Superman Circumcised?from McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers and the Jewish context for comic book icon Superman. Schwartz is an accomplished legal marketing professional, and he details how his appreciation of storytelling, graphics, character, and effective narrative have enabled him to help lawyers discover their business development super powers.
We *may* also talk (a lot) about comic books.
Rob Kates and I also chat with my mom Susie Sexton about fleas, the Olympics, and the joys of marriage. Other topics addressed in today’s show, in no particular order: Britney Spears, Bill Cosby, Jack Kirby, Stephen Colbert, cosplay, pool toys, Richard Donner, Christopher Reeve, Superman and Lois, writing, Halloween costumes, Schneider, and heaven knows what else.
Shout outs include Richard Pinto, Scott Neitlich, Merry Neitlich, Andrew Laver, Jessica Aries (happy birthday!), Kimberly Schwartz, and more!
So, we’ll have two comic-book-loving “Roys” on the show, and they’ll discuss the intersection of a career in legal marketing, a passion for writing and cultural analysis, and an obsession with superheroes.
Legal Marketing Coffee Talk is brought to you by: Jessica Aries’ By Aries and Rob Kates’ Kates Media: Video Production. Thank you, as always, to Katelynn McGuire for the promotional support!
Beautifully written and consummately researched, Is Superman Circumcised? extends its analysis well beyond the character’s Golden Age origins and authorship to assess the full 80+ years of the Man of Steel’s pop cultural history.
Schwartz marries biblical, literary, and sociocultural scholarship effortlessly. This is a breezy yet substantive and profound read, deftly navigating real world and DC Comics in-universe history as well as religious and mythic iconography. The portrait of Jewish history, culture, and faith as channeled through the Superman mythos is comprehensive and revelatory.
As for the titular question, I won’t spoil any surprises. Rather inevitably, logically, and reasonably (for a character so ingrained in the public consciousness), Schwartz leaves his reader with an answer akin to what might only be described as … Schrödinger’s prepuce.
Highly recommend for both comics fans and casual readers alike.
Schwartz will be conducting an author talk at the University of Michigan on June 16, 3-4 pm. It’s free to attend via Zoom – register here: umlib.us/superman.
SUPERMAN is the most famous character in the world. He’s the first superhero, an American icon—and he’s Jewish!
Introduced in June 1938, the Man of Steel was created by two Jewish teens, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the sons of immigrants from Eastern Europe. They based their hero’s origin story on Moses, his strength on Samson, his mission on the golem and his nebbish secret identity on themselves. They made him a refugee fleeing catastrophe on the eve of World War II and sent him to tear Nazi tanks apart nearly two years before the US joined the war.
In following decades Superman’s mostly Jewish writers, artists and editors continued to borrow Jewish motifs for their stories, basing Krypton’s past on Genesis and Exodus, its civilization on Jewish culture, the trial of Lex Luthor on Adolf Eichmann’s and a holiday celebrating Superman on Passover.
Exploring these underlying themes of a beloved modern mythology, Is Superman Circumcised? The Complete Jewish History of the World’s Greatest Hero is a fascinating and entertaining journey through comic book lore, American history and Jewish tradition, sure to give readers a newfound appreciation for the Mensch of Steel!
Roy is the author of Is Superman Circumcised? The Complete Jewish History of the World’s Greatest Hero (McFarland ’21) and The Darkness in Lee’s Closet and the Others Waiting There (Aelurus ’18).
He has written for newspapers, magazines, websites, academic organizations and journals, law firms, tech companies, toy companies, and production studios. He has taught English and writing at CUNY, the City University of New York, and is a former writer-in-residence at the New York Public Library. When not writing he is the director of marketing & business development of a regional law firm.
Roy graduated magna cum laude from the New School University with a BA in English, majoring in creative writing with a minor in journalism, and cum laude from NYU with an interdisciplinary MA in English and social thought, focusing on 19th century British and 20th century American literature. He interned for Marvel Comics.
Originally from Tel Aviv, Israel, Roy grew up a voracious reader of everything from Israeli novels to British plays to American comic books. He taught himself English from comics and cartoons, which is why he’s comfortable using words like “swell.”
Roy lives in Long Island, NY with his wife Kim, a bestselling author and editor, and their two children. He has a penchant for caffeine, candy, and a quality-over-quantity wardrobe.
Love this coverage of my talented mom Susie Duncan Sexton at the recent Whitley County Historical Museum’s Author fair! Thanks to Linda Thomson and The Post & Mail. Find out more about my mom and her wonderful books at www.susieduncansexton.com
Tempus fugit. Carpe diem. Time waits for no man. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
There are so many clichés associated with the concept of time, which is as much an indicator of the shallowness of humankind as it is our own internal wrestling match with existentialism. For 26 years(!), I happily have portrayed a footnote in American history, Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall, who served under Woodrow Wilson during World War I. He is a hometown legend where I grew up, Columbia City, Indiana, and my life and his have been peculiarly intertwined.
Marshall is perhaps best known for his quote, “What this country really needs is a good five cent cigar.” Oh, and he was a Democrat, praise be. They do exist in Indiana!
While he was born in nearby North Manchester, he resided in Columbia City, and his home was just a few blocks from where my mother grew up, a house my parents then later purchased, prompting a move from Fort Wayne 30 years ago. In fact, as a child, my mother had spent a glorious afternoon once with Marshall’s former secretary, looking through sheet music, but, indicative of the nature of any small town that can fixate on the most meaningless of gossip to the detriment of a bigger picture, no one bothered to tell my mother of this woman’s notoriety.
Decades later, my mother would find herself one of the curators of The Whitley County Historical Museum, which you may have guessed is housed in Marshall’s former home, restored to its Italianate glory. Because my family has always been a creative and resourceful clan, my mother recruited me, in my freshman year of high school, to spray silver in my hair and clip a fake homemade mustache under my nose (to this day, I couldn’t grow a mustache if my life depended on it, and I’m fine with that) and eat soup and break bread at a holiday dinner with a small but plucky crew who had an appreciation for northern Indiana history.
While that first mustache fell into my soup more times than I could count, and I found myself faced with questions I had no idea how to answer (I am genetically incapable of historical reenactment, and I would be an epic failure as a cast member at Greenfield Village or colonial Williamsburg, as I have no capacity to pretend that I don’t know what a television is or to extemporaneously expound on what life was like 100 years earlier without devolving into uncontrollable giggles), it was an auspicious beginning to the longest-running role I’ve ever held.
It was at that time that I fell in love with having a script, and in a great desire to avoid ever awkwardly eating dinner with people who knew more about the character I was playing then I did, I wrote a 20 minute speech, borrowing liberally from Marshall’s autobiography A Hoosier Salad. He was a funny man, not Mark Twain clever, but the Hoosier equivalent, and the speech was peppered with one Neil Simon-esque zinger after another. You know the kind? Set up, set up, punchline. Set up, set up, punchline.
My parents bought me a better mustache, and introduced me to the joys of spirit gum, though the likely-carcinogenic silver hairspray remained. I borrowed, and never returned – sorry about that – a tuxedo from some family friends, and after honing my craft at one women’s literary circle after another, my nascent impersonation career took off. And sputtered. And took off again. I suspect it was in those days that I began to appreciate cucumber sandwiches and pineapple upside down cake and how to successfully dodge and parry through invasive, yet well/meaning, inquisitions from blue-haired octogenarians. I would find myself presenting in the unlikeliest of circumstances, repeatedly giving the speech to Governor, later Senator, Evan Bayh, for example, who probably knew it better than I did after certain point.
Like Marshall, I would end up attending small, eccentric, insular, provocative Wabash College, a liberal arts institution that, to this day, stubbornly hangs on to its all male status, like a gilded beer keg at a caveman drum circle. It’s a charming place, filled with enough memories and shenanigans to last a lifetime; coupled with the tender yet firm guidance of intellectually insatiable parents who afforded me every opportunity, my college years set me on a path for success and even more importantly toward open-mindedness.
Just when I would hope I had shaken off the specter of Marshall, somebody from the College or from my hometown or from a neighboring burg, would recall that I did this bizarre thing, and they would summon me back, not unlike Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin screaming “Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!” And, poof, I would show up, hat in hand, with the same tired anecdotes that still delighted people as if they had never heard them before.
As I am careening now through middle-age, I had filed the speech away and hidden that yellowed, crusty mustache under the bathroom sink, believing I would never be asked to do this again. In fact, that tuxedo buckles under my newfound girth, and I had hoped I wouldn’t have to deal with the mortification of trying to zip up those pants again. But, mere months ago, Mary Ann Anderson on a sojourn from the Historical Society board, emailed me at the law office where I work, betraying whatever over-the-hill actor protection program I thought I had fallen into, and asked me and Tom to return.
And I’m so glad she did.
Columbia City has a summer festival every year called Old Settlers. And in the summer of 1986, before I entered eighth grade at a new junior high in a strange yet familiar town, this street fair was my Disneyland. The downtown was taken over by the kind of carnival rides that anyone with a couple of screwdrivers and a hammer might be able to assemble, and for a week solid I would walk a handful of blocks to ride the tilt-a-whirl until my face was blue, shoveling elephant ears down a gullet queasy from the experience. I didn’t know nor care what an “Old Settler” was nor why the town’s self-appointed illuminati donned red blazers to celebrate the occasion. I just wanted carny distraction!
Thirty years later, the same rickety rides still appear and the red jackets are omnipresent. But this time I was among them, not as an impetuous teenager, but as an anxious adult, worried about a world spinning off its axis a little more every day and newly appreciative of one’s own heritage and mythology. What once seemed tangential to the celebration now seems essential: tracking and inventorying the number and ages of the attendees, where they live, and how far they may have traveled.
As part of a specific event – “History Alive!” – centered around this particular cataloging activity, Anderson asked me, a couple of Civil War reenact-ors (one for each side of the War Between the States apparently), some local artisans, and a handful of pioneer-garbed volunteers to mill about the museum grounds through the afternoon, greeting the “old settlers” as they arrived.
I found myself panicked. No script? I have to answer strange questions again? No quips? But once I settled in – somewhere around hour three – and my ever-loving and supportive parents stopped by (we never grow out of that, thank goodness), I started to have, well, fun. And even more I appreciated the purpose of this festival to celebrate people and our connection with one another and our history. Not all of us can be vice president of United States, nor would likely want to be, but we make our own history every day.
Sitting on Marshall’s front porch, dressed like a lunatic, I caught up with a steady stream of faces, half-remembered but fully loved. Looks like I just grew up a little bit. How about that? You can now call me an Old Settler. Elephant ears optional.
“No, there is no world-wide standard for the determination of provincialism. There is only one standard by which to judge men and women, and that standard is not so much one of brains and education as it is of culture and heart. Kindness seems to be the one golden metewand by which to measure how really civilized and catholic one may be.” – Thomas Marshall
Roy Sexton tells about growing up in Columbia City, favorite teachers, pastimes, and unique opportunities he was privileged to experience living in a small town.
Susie Sexton’s father, Roy Duncan, was in charge of the Columbia City Blue Bell factory for many years. Susie herself grew up in Columbia City and lives today in the same home she was brought to as a baby. In this interview, Susie reminisces about Columbia City, her parents, the Blue Bell factory, the local theater and churches, and life in general.