The Big Kahn
written by Neil Kleid
illustrated by Nicholas Cinquegrani
Rabbi David Kahn has passed away, leaving behind a grieving widow and three children: Avi, the eldest and the most likely to follow in his father’s footsteps; Lea, the rebellious daughter; and Eli, the youngest son. They’ve all entered into a period of mourning for the great man they knew, as has the congregation of his temple. Truly, he was one of the greats, and they all know it.
But they don’t, not really. Unto the scene bursts Kahn’s brother, a ragtag crook with bad manners and no appreciation for Jewish rules and rituals. That’s because he isn’t Jewish, and neither was David Kahn. The two were a pair of con men who went on the run decades earlier. David chose the best disguise and wound up posing as a rabbi in New Jersey.
Obviously, this throws everyone into turmoil. Avi falls in with a non-Jewish girl, Lea drifts even further away from Judaism, and Eli begins to question his faith—and finds answers—in a way he never had before.
Kleid’s script is a wonder, with its pitch-perfect ear for dialogue. Paired with Nicolas Cinquegrani’s richly textured shades and overtones, it not only captures New Jersey well—it also fully delivers on the premise of the story. When the no-good brother bursts in, disrupting everything and causing chaos at the scene, the emotions he provokes in the family and in the crowd are so nicely executed that they feel completely real—Cinquegrani’s work bringing the panels to life right along with the script, which is at times funny and then heartbreaking.
The Big Kahn is an adventurous step for Kleid, author of Brownsville and the webcomic Action, Ohio. Like Brownsville, it’s a Jewish story set out east, but it’s so simply executed (and subtly ambitious) that it sneaks up on you more easily and more casually than you expect. Its great strength lies in that. I loved the story and was glad to be able to read it in graphic novel form.