Rebecca Schuchat is the artist behind our new comic strip, "Where's My Timbrel?"
Rebecca Schuchat is the artist behind our new comic strip, "Where's My Timbrel?"

‘Where’s My Timbrel?’ Our new comic strip draws on artist’s Bay Area Jewish life

Comics are Rebecca Schuchat’s preferred mode of self-expression. Yet the Oakland-born cartoonist, whose new comic strip, “Where’s My Timbrel?,” is debuting here and will continue on J.’s social media channels, tends to make comics that are more introspective than humorous.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about, as a millennial, not being able to afford the place that I grew up in,” Schuchat said during a Zoom interview from Vermont, where she is living while pursuing an MFA at the Center for Cartoon Studies. “It feels like I’m exiled. I think that’s going to be a central theme in this comic” for J.

Schuchat, 28, grew up reading the comics in the San Francisco Chronicle and treasured her collection of original Wonder Woman comic books. “I love that she was fighting Nazis in it!” she said.

She laughed as she recalled what her teachers from elementary school through Lick Wilmerding High School in San Francisco wrote on her report cards: “Rebecca is a good student. She needs to talk less and draw less on her assignments.”

Before taking art, photography and film classes in high school, Schuchat said, “I don’t think I even understood that illustration could be a career. I didn’t think that that was possible.”

While majoring in film and television production at New York University, Schuchat focused on directing and animation. “When I applied to NYU, instead of applying with a student film, I applied with storyboards, which were essentially just a comic,” she said. “My favorite part of filmmaking was storyboarding, and I just didn’t put two and two together, that that’s what I like doing.”

By junior year, she was spending her free time on the animation floor of one of NYU’s buildings, using graphics pens and displays to draw animations on screens.

Then, in her senior year, she learned she carries the BRCA genetic mutation, which sharply increases the risk of developing breast cancer. One in 40 Ashkenazi Jewish women have the mutation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Schuchat’s mother and maternal grandmother also carried the mutation, and she became interested in learning about the other women in her family tree who had it. (Many of them had their lives cut short by breast cancer, she said.)

She took a DNA test, created an account and later accessed the New York City Municipal Archives, finding ship records of her ancestors immigrating to the U.S. from Germany. She also used census data to locate the buildings in New York where they lived.

“I found that one of the women who had the mutation had lived in Brooklyn, three blocks away from where I was living at the time,” Schuchat said. “And the house was still there!” She walked by it and marveled at the coincidence of living in such close proximity. “I was just obsessed with this idea that we had inhabited the same physical space,” she said.

For her thesis project at the Center for Cartoon Studies, Schuchat has been working on a graphic novel about women with the BRCA mutation. The book, tentatively titled “BRCA,” has been coming to life on an iPad, which she uses to create digital drawings. (By contrast, she creates her J. comics using black ink and watercolors.)

Schuchat said she hopes to have the graphic novel published once it’s completed.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about Jewish diaspora and this idea of ‘home’,” she noted. “That’s central to my art-making.”

Emma Goss
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.