Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Graphic Lit: Exit Wounds

Young Tel Aviv taxi driver Koby Franco is coasting through his life when a female soldier shows up by his car one day and says “We need to talk.”

“Remember that suicide bombing in Hadera three weeks ago,” she asks? “Remember that body that was so badly burned it couldn’t be identified?” Well, she says, I think it was your father.”

That’s the start to “Exit Wounds,” the stellar new graphic novel from Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan.

The story’s locale and references to terrorism suggest an overt political tome. Modan, however, wisely keeps such themes in the background, instead creating a wise and warm romantic drama.
You see, Koby has been estranged from his dad for a number of years and would prefer to keep things that way rather than risk any further disappointment. He’s not eager to find out if this poor, unclaimed soul is really his father, and he knows his dad well enough to suspect that it’s not.

But Numi, the female soldier, had been romantically involved with Koby’s dad prior to the bombing and will not be stopped in her quest to uncover the truth.

Thus, she drags the reluctant Koby around the country, talking to eyewitnesses and digging desperately at long-shot clues. Slowly, the father’s identity and whereabouts start to take shape, while Numi and Koby begin to forge a relationship of their own.

Never a household name even among the indie crowd, Modan is probably best known as a member of the Actus Tragicus, an Israeli comics collective (she’s also illustrated a number of children’s books). “Exit Wounds,” however, pretty much establishes her as a top-tier artist worthy of notice.

Modan adopts a simple “clear line” art style with little shading or variance in width. Instead she uses flat, warm colors to suggest depth or feeling.

Warm, funny and touching, “Exit Wounds” is specific enough in its look at modern Israeli life to seem unique, but universal enough in its characters and themes to be easily recognizable. It’s one of the best books you’ll read this year.

Also from Drawn and Quarterly:

“King-Cat Classix”
by John Porcellino, 384 pages, $29.95.

Porcellino is one of the stalwarts of the indie-comic scene, having self-published his “King-Cat” comics for almost 20 years now.

“King-Cat Classix” compiles the best of the early years in one handsome hardcover volume. The stories included here suggest a young artist attempting to find his way, trying a variety of different methods and styles before settling down into the contemplative, minimalist style he uses to great effect today.

For fans of his work, “Classix” provides a great look at Porcellino’s growth and development. The uninitiated might feel a bit lost here however. For them, I would recommend tracking down “Perfect Example” instead.

by Joe Matt, 120 pages, $19.95.

For several years now, and at a glacial pace to boot, Joe Matt has cast a devastating, caustic eye on his own life, such as it is, documenting his failed relationships, nerdy childhood and ugly personality traits in excruciating detail.

“Spent” reaches a new high (or low as the case may be) as it documents his devastating addiction to pornography.

But for a book about such a salacious subject, there’s surprisingly no nudity or sex involved; Matt emphasizes dialogue instead, with lots of narrow panels of talking heads, emphasizing the claustrophobic feeling of the book.

It sounds like a depressing and dull topic for a book, but Matt is a gifted storyteller, boasting a likable, thick-lined style, and he knows how to break down a lengthy monologue into readable chunks. “Spent” might be the comic book equivalent of rubbernecking, but all the same you won’t be able to tear yourself away from it.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007

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