SETH and RUTU MODAN in the Independent [UK]

It’s a weird life

The Independent    |    Tim Martin    |    June 3, 2007

THE NEW REVIEW | Tim Martin finds current masters of the graphic novel tackling everyday life and death in Israel, returning to the golden age of comics in Canada and tracing the wildest imaginings of a disordered mind

It’s a good time to be writing comic books. Not only is the form finally and blessedly free of the theorising over its seriousness and validity that has persisted since the term graphic novel was coined, but it’s also a relatively young discipline, unhampered at its best by generic cliché and offering genuinely original narrative possibilities to writers willing to experiment. Publishers seem to be catching on, too; heaven knows how well these things sell, but three striking new examples demonstrate serious investment in the kind of production and design that allow a cartoonist’s art to sing.

It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken proves once again that the Canadian cartoonist Seth’s is a talent to be treasured. Like last year’s Wimbledon Green (also published, rather beautifully, by Cape) this is a quietly sardonic story about comic geekery and the bachelorish pleasures of collecting things, as well as a tribute to the golden age of comic cartooning exemplified by The New Yorker under Harold Ross. Set in the mid-1980s, in semi-rural Ontario and Toronto, it’s the story of Seth’s growing obsession with a minor cartoonist from the 1940s and 1950s called Kalo, and of the miniature quest he undertakes to establish why Kalo published so little and stopped drawing so soon.

This is an introspective, nostalgic little tale, endearingly brisk in its delineation of character and with a sly, self-condemning sense of humour – the Seth of the book is made to seem tryingly old-womanish in his habits and self-preoccupations. It’s A Good Life ... is also wonderfully designed and drawn, with Seth’s deftly stylised sepiatone drawings in the service of a genuinely astute grasp of pace and narrative. It’s a small triumph for the form.

Also from Cape is Exit Wounds, the second graphic novel from the Israeli illustrator Rutu Modan. It’s the story of Koby, a young cab driver in Tel Aviv, and Numi, the girl who contacts him to tell him that his estranged father – her lover – may have been the victim of a recent suicide bombing in Hadera. Off they go in his taxi to find out, discovering on a sequence of cross-country forays that neither of them knew the missing man, or themselves, as well as they thought.

Produced in lavish full colour, Exit Wounds is an enormously attractive book, and Modan’s striking talent for scenic arrangement, her distinctive jolie laide humans and her snappy grasp of dialogue give an absolutely cogent picture of the weirdness of life in contemporary Israel . “Look at those poor bastards,” says one character, leafing through a picture spread of bomb casualties. “Oh, they’re from the Haifa bombing,” responds the other, gloriously missing the point, “nothing to do with us.” Modan’s vision of Israel isn’t as explicitly surreal as that of her contemporary and sometime collaborator Etgar Keret, but it’s just as compelling in its portrayal of the country’s many faces, from desolate countryside to teeming city, from frontline political violence to Americanised consumer fastness. It’s an intriguing, percipient, unsentimental piece of work that deserves a decent audience.


‘It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken’ by Seth and ‘Exit Wounds’ by Rutu Modan are both published by Cape at £14.99. To buy discounted copies (free p&, contact Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897



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