Comic books have produced few characters as charming as Rabbi Harvey. Possessed of a powerful wisdom and a quiet confidence, he also has a self-deprecating sense of humor and is shy enough that he sometimes gets nervous around girls (one girl in particular, actually). The hero of the Adventures of Rabbi Harvey and Rabbi Harvey Rides Again, he has kept the peace as sheriff of Elk Spring, Colorado (a frontier town that appears to be peopled exclusively by Jews) not with the quick draw of a six-shooter, but with the judicious application of wisdom, wit and ancient Jewish allegory. The Rabbi returns now in his most (intellectually) daring adventure, Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid (by Sheinkin), which pits the pancake-loving Rabbi against his greatest (philosophical) rivals who have hatched a sinister plot to run him out of town for good. The nefarious Bad Bubbe has called her son, a Rabbi himself, into town to ruin Harvey's reputation and land him in the hoosegow, then take over as the town's wisdom-dispensing (and money-grubbing) authority. Needless to say, Harvey doesn't lie down without a (verbal) fight and the whole thing ends up in a wisdom-showdown at the corral. As always, the off-kilter art ends up being remarkably evocative of the time and tone and supports the unique and subtle brand of literate humor that the Harvey books have perfected. Most surprising of all is how painlessly you will find that reading this has imbued you with a few notes of genuine wisdom.
If Harvey has whetted your appetite for quiet wisdom and pastoral settings, do take a look at Essex County (by Lemire). The diametric opposite of Harvey's tone, Essex County details the lives of various inhabitants of a small Canadian farming community in small black and white dramas that strike straight at your heart with universal truths about family, friendship and loneliness. My favorite of the three main stories and two shorts is the first, Tales from the Farm, about a boy living with an uncle he hardly knows, who is looking to define his existence through parents he can hardly remember. But when he finds himself befriended by a hulking stranger, he has to start making choices about who has his best interests at heart and what growing up is really all about. Another book guaranteed to leave you a little wiser for the reading.
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