Hoppel Poppel Comix

« I speak ten languages– all of them in Yiddish. » — Charles Rappaport

Like many a non-New-Yorker comics-loving goyim, my earliest encounters with Yiddish parlance came through Mad Magazine (furshlugginer, potzrebie, farshimmelt…), a practice initiated by its creator, Harvey Kurtzman, and carried on by his disciples and successors; unlike most of my ilk, however, my interest didn’t flag there, so I followed up Mad with Leo Rosten’s masterful The Joys of Yiddish.

As Art Spiegelman reminded us recently, in his controversial essay about the early American comic book industry, « the pioneers behind this embryonic medium based in New York were predominantly Jewish and from ethnic minority backgrounds. » Much like Mr. Spiegelman, I largely eschewed superheroes, unless nothing else was around. Of course, the trick to a varied diet is to stay alert to every possibility. Newspapers, naturally (it helps to live in or near a large metropolitan centre, though), random magazines, second-hand book stores, public and private libraries. Fluency in more than one language is a great asset, of course.

With the new possibilities opened up by the internet, I’ve grown quite fond of investigating obscure publications advertised or reviewed in old magazines. Case in point: a few years ago, I was flipping through The New Yorker‘s annual Cartoon Issue (another tip o’ the hat to Mr. Spieg) of 2001, and came upon this tiny, intriguing advertisement in its back pages.

Drek (rhymes with wreck): Dirt, shit, or inferior merchandise; Ferbissoner (fur-biss’-n-er): Someone who clenches their teeth all the time; a hard-ass; Bissel (biss-l): a little bit; Schmutzik (shmoot’ [as in book] – tzik): dirty; Tokkeh (tock’-eh): actually, or really.
Obviously, I looked up Hoppel Poppel Comix online, found a copy, ordered it, loved it… and here we are. My pick, The Medical Journal of B.M. Derschlog, turns out to have been the first story produced, and the impetus for the rest of the collection.


« Ken Eichenbaum’s comic book for adults began as cancer therapy. In 1999, Eichenbaum was diagnosed with colon cancer. While undergoing treatment, he began to come up with a 16-page thank-you card for those who had helped him through the ordeal. He was so encouraged by the response to that story, ‘The Medical Journal of B.M. Derschlog‘ — which lampoons his experience with the medical establishment — that he decided to write more illustrated tales. ‘I would lie in bed and there would be this shadow of illness. And I would come up with things that would make me chuckle to myself,’ says Eichenbaum, 70, who’s hesitant to talk about his cancer for fear of being seen as looking for sympathy. The result is a ‘graphic novel‘ — as these booklong comics are called — filled with sometimes funny, sometimes bawdy tales. Eichenbaum considers cartoonists Art Spiegelman and Ben Katchor to be two of his models, but ‘Hoppel Poppel‘ is less heart-wrenching than Spiegelman’s ‘Maus‘ and more slapstick than Katchor’s elliptical humor. » [source]

Mr. Eichenbaum was also clearly at ease with short-form gag strip (of these, the author coyly states: «… single-strip episodes, some of which may have previously appeared in Jewish community newspapers around the U.S. »). Some evidence:


Cheese for juices : Jews for Jesus. Mitzvah (mitz’-Vah): A good deed, a commandment; Vayzmeer (vayz’-meer): A little prayer, like ‘help me’; Kishka (kish’-keh): Stuffed intestine, regarded by many as a delicacy; Shikker (shik’-ker): an inebriated person; the state of being drunk; Emmis (em’-miss; rhymes with tennis): truth!; Fekokteh (feh-kok’-teh): shitty; Shul (shul): a temple, as school; Tuchus (tuch’-es; rhymes with ruckus): buttocks– offensive; Shaygitz (shay’-gitz): a non-Jewish male.
… and the back.

Well, it looks like a lovely day out there, so I’m off to pick up some potato knishes (like Mr. Kotter, I simply can’t kick that particular addiction)!


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