Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jamilti: The past indicates the future

That review of Punisher War Zone #5 I mentioned yesterday: here it is.

Other links:  Check out this Jack Kirby/Sigmund Freud mashup by Hans Rickheit.  Crazy.

Also crazy -- crazy awesome, that is: here are two Kirby-inspired comics by Roger Langridge that originally ran in some convention booklets: a one-page comic featuring a bunch of Kirby characters, and a "Kirby alphabet".  Fun!

Not Kirby, but still awesome: a Jim Rugg-illustrated Afrodesiac comic that originally ran in Popgun volume 2.  Sexy!

And finally, check out these variant manga covers that make for an odd crossover: Honey and Clover's Chica Umino illustrates Kentarou Miura's Berserk, and vice versa for Umino's March Comes in Like a Lion.  Odd!

Okay, to business.  Finally!

Jamilti and Other Stories
By Rutu Modan

Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds was one of the best comics of 2007 (see my review here), but she didn't spring directly to that book fully formed.  Luckily, we have the chance to see some of her earlier stuff and watch her development with this new short story collection, featuring works that were originally published in the Israeli Actus Tragicus anthology.  It's really interesting to track Modan's artistic and storytelling development over the course of her career (although the stories are not presented chronologically, so a final-page author's note and some deduction are required to determine where each story falls on the timeline), but the stories still work wonderfully on their own, providing some nice examples of Modan's wit and grasp of character, along with a few good street-level looks at life in Israel.

The first story, which shares the book's title, is a great example of that, telling the story of a nurse who is preparing for her wedding but isn't getting much help from her fiance, who would rather be playing soccer with his friends.  He comes off as quite a jerk, especially when he starts trading ugly anti-Palestinian rhetoric with a taxi driver who shares his political views, prompting her to leave the cab and walk straight into a bombing.  She ends up making a connection with what appears to be a victim but turns out to be the bomber himself, and the story ends sort of abruptly, leaving us wondering if the experience will prompt her to make any changes in her life (like leaving her bastard of a boyfriend).  It's a good look at the day-to-day life of people in Israel, and their attitudes about the situation they live in.

Another similar story is "Homecoming", which sees a community get caught up in a flurry of hope when a Lebanese plane starts circling their village.  Is it the pilot son of an elderly couple who was shot down, having escaped from a prison and stolen a Lebanese plane?  Or is it a terrorist intending to take out a bunch of civilians?  Either way, it's a sad event, especially when the air force shows up to take care of things.  Modan presents this story in a series of full-page images, and it makes the characters seem almost larger than life as the horrible events play out.

But as interesting as those stories are, some of the other tales in the book are even better, especially when they create and illuminate some interesting characters or play out a bit of charming (and oddly skewed) fantasy.  The latter comes into play especially in two earlier stories, "King of the Lillies" and "The Panty Killer".  The former is an odd little story about a plastic surgeon who tries to shape every woman he treats into the image of his lost love, creating a tragic, yet kind of beautiful commentary on several topics, including confusing desires and memories with reality and the alluring nature of conformity.  "The Panty Killer" is much darker, looking at a serial killer who appears to be targeting people who were in a nightclub on a certain evening.  It unfolds as a mystery, but most of the fun is just watching Modan bring everything together and seeing her enhance the skeeviness of everything with her artwork.  I especially liked this scene, in which the police show up to question the nightclub's owner:

The details there really stand out, from the grittiness that the coloring adds to the setting, to the weird strap on/French tickler that the owner wears, to the way the janitor just picks up her mop and continues with her work, sans pants.  Nice.  And the rest of the story works great too, playing on the themes of family that Modan seems to like.

Speaking of which, she hits the emotional aspect of familial relationships quite hard in several stories.  "Energy Blockage" is a good example, seeing two sisters who work with their mom, a woman who claims to have electrical healing powers, which she supposedly gained after OD-ing on some pills after her husband left her.  One daughter thinks it's all a sham, but she goes along with it so they can make enough money to get by, and when she sees the opportunity to use her mom's abilities to get in touch with her father, she takes it, only to see that he has deserted them to start a new family.  It's heartbreaking to watch, but really well-realized.  

"Bygone" works on different thematic lines, but it also looks at families who aren't quite whole and who can't seem to be truthful with one another.  It follows some sisters who run a theme hotel that simulates Parisian experiences.  The middle sister, who is in the midst of adolescence and is exploring both her family's past and her burgeoning sexuality, starts discovering that her relationship with her older sister isn't what she thought it was all these years.  It's another bit of heartbreak, but Modan brings it all together expertly, forgoing color in this instance to present a simple, evocative tale.

Finally, the most recent story closes out the book: "Your Number One Fan".  It's about a musician who travels to England to play a show, excited to finally gain some acclaim after failing to make any sort of impact in Israel.  But when he gets there, he finds that the "promoter" is actually a divorced middle-aged woman who just wants him to play at the local Jewish cultural center.  It's embarrassing, and we can feel his dreams evaporating right along with him.  Presented in landscape format, this story really shows how far Modan's art has come, especially in terms of space, depth, and color:

Compared to some of the rough, early work here (which does still have its charms), it's an impressive development of talent, and it's a great example of how good an artist Modan has become, even though she has been producing nice work for years.  Her storytelling has developed as well, and at this point, she combines the writing and art to bring some wonderful stories to life.  I can't wait to see what she does next.

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