The Big Kahn (NBM/ComicsLit)

bigkahn-header.jpgA dead rabbi’s family must deal with the revelation that his entire life was a lie in this highly recommended new graphic novel from Xeric Award winner Neil Kleid and artist Nicolas Cinquegrani.



176 pgs. B&W; $13.95

(W: Neil Kleid; A: Nicolas Cinquegrani)


If I were the kind of person who was into making top-10 lists, my "Best Graphic Novels of 2010" list would have included Neil Kleid and Nicolas Cinquegrani’s The Big Kahn. It probably would have cracked the top three, even.

That’s because the writing in this one is sharp as a tack, and the plot is wholly original. Kleid (Brownsville, Ninety Candles), a Xeric Award winner, imagines the fallout of a gentile crashing the funeral of a Rabbi Kahn, claiming that the deceased was not a rabbi, and more, not even Jewish. Turns out the guy isn’t kidding—Rabbi Kahn was an impostor (thus the "Kahn job" of the title), who originally pretended to be a rabbi to win the heart of a religious woman. Along the way, the rabbi became a virtuous and pious man, but the revelations that emerge after his death throw his family and congregation into chaos.

Kleid’s conceit may be a little on the unlikely side, but his treatment of characters is pitch-perfect. The rabbetzin (rabbi’s wife) is stunned that her husband never shared his big secret with her. Each of the rabbi’s three children has his or her own cross to bear (no pun intended). The most compelling subplot follows his son Avi, who is ousted from the synagogue, and turns, for the first time, to the forbidden fruit for comfort: his sister’s roommate. His crisis of faith plays out like something from The Jazz Singer or Chaim Potok’s The Chosen—good stuff.

As the characters discover the depths of their absent patriarch’s deception, and fall deeper into their respective emotional shit pits, the plot becomes more and more absorbing. There are some mawkish flashbacks, and a regrettable emphasis on the healing power of religion (for this agnostic, anyway), but they’re more than compensated for by delicious moments, like a meeting of petty, bickering temple congregants that has the ring of truth; or that clever seduction scene that finds the rabbi’s son ensnared and then reborn into confusion; or when two of the children begin to wonder, through various misadventures, just how much of the con artist is in their own genes. One of the book’s great strengths is its pacing and tone, conveyed by the frequent use of silent panels. Silent. Panels. Slow. The reader. Down. And. It’s good. To slow. Down. And. Think.

I wish I could say that Nicolas Cinquegrani’s art is as impressive, but he might benefit from the teachings of an artist skilled at rendering faces. Cinquegrani has a knack for making panels moody with light and shadow, and his collaboration with Kleid makes for subtly paced plot and thoughtful resonance, but the artist winds up coming off as young, with a somewhat wooden style that will hopefully evolve.

Neil Kleid you will be reading more of, if you should be so lucky, to paraphrase a classic Jewish exhortation.

Very highly recommended. | Byron Kerman


Click here for more information and a 9-page preview, courtesy of NBM Publishing.


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