Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Rutu Modan - Jamilti and other stories (Jonathan Cape 2009)

How much do we know about the people of Israel? We know the politics, have picked our sides to support and happily go on through our lives reducing countries to polemic and political policy. So thank god for the medium of graphic novels and for Rutu Modan, whose short pieces of pictoral fiction comprise a sturdy offering from the Jonathan Cape stable of thinking liter-ista’s funny books. This is a far cry from the spandex and superheroism of Marvel. This is a subtle intense funny set of short stories, all with their own brand of ultra-violence. In the titular ‘Jamilti’ we meet a bride-to-be, one of Israel’s bleeding heart liberals marrying an oafish pig of a far right man. Her quiet acceptance of her position and his boarish conversational gambits about terrorism and Palestine converge in a tense engagement where much is left unsaid. When she finds herself in the debris of a terrorist bombing, she finds herself face-to-face with a mutilated dying man who makes her feel appreciated and beautiful. That moment of pure vulnerability and synergy makes the closing pay-off all the more smarter. The characters in Modan’s book all lead quiet lives that are torn apart by violence, whether it be political or personal or emotional. ‘The Panty Killer’ follows the police investigation into The Panty Killer, a violent serial killer who leaves his victims with a pair of Y-fronts over their head. In ‘Homecoming’ a small community mourn the death of one of their boys gone off to war in different ways, unable to move on from the fact that he may have died at war, when a plane appears overhead and they reach fever pitch excitement wondering if he has now in fact returned. Each story is funny with a black heart stricken with the cancer of grief and bereavement, with the whisping underbelly of politics trying to muscle its way into the lives of these Israelis. The artwork is beautiful and sombre with a lot of strange yellows and pencil-coloured hair and backgrounds, each panel oozing with the mix between adult- and child-eye view of the scenes depicted, reminiscent of Tin-Tin. The precise nature of their expression and observation mean that the dialogue-light panels are effective at evoking deep emotions. With other stories ranging from parental discoveries to women with healing hands, the range of lives in Israel, macabre and twisted as they may sound are funny and sombre and dripping with a gallows humour only befitting a country with such a war-filled past.

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