With so much fiction that takes place in Israel, there is a tendency to focus on Jewish identity no surprise there and the country's place and legacy in its region. With the graphic novel "Exit Wounds," acclaimed Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan has taken a different approach, allowing the well-trod circumstances to function as the backdrop for a more personal story to unfold.
Koby is a young guy without a nuclear family his mother is dead, his sister has moved to America and his father is at best a phantom in his life. He passes his time with his aunt and uncle, sharing their cab as a means of income and generally stewing in the anger that his life has fostered. One day, a young woman tells him that his father was possibly killed in a bombing and though Koby rejects her concern, the mystery of the possible death begins to bubble within him.
Koby soon finds himself searching for the truth did his father die in the bombing or is he still alive somewhere as pushed along by the woman, Numi, who seems to have been dating Koby's father. What becomes apparent is that as the two lost souls investigate the whereabouts of the man who links them, they are also learning more about themselves, discovering an alternate secret history to the incidents of their own lives and creating a connection with each other that may well herald a welcome new phase to each other's existence.
In Modan's Israel, terrorism is not a bombastic disruption of daily reality, but part of that routine, and it's striking how a mound of dead bodies can be dismissed more casually than a misdirected comment said in a negative tone by someone sitting next to you in a car. The reality is that the terrorism becomes a bad part of life, but not a disruption it's part of the larger world and people adapt to that. It's all the personal stuff that trips you up, regardless of your station in life or the political situation in your country. What hurts you is not someone attacking your country, but someone attacking you, because that is a weapon that crawls under your skin and festers.
"Exit Wounds" is as concerned with the quiet moments of the hunt as it is with any resolution. The mystery unfolds and the mystery eventually shifts you become less concerned whether Koby and Numi will find the father, and more interested in how they will make peace with each other and their pasts. As the mystery resolves itself and Modan allows life to go on, the idea that one must rectify the past and step into the future and that it's best if you have a partner in this forward movement take center stage and "Exit Wounds" becomes a powerful endorsement for not letting history permanently ravage you anymore than a terrorist attack should.
I Killed Adolf Hitler by Jason (Fantagraphics)
It's an old time travel story chestnut a time machine is used to send someone back in time to change something awful that happened. Assassinating Hitler is a popular one to use in such stories. In Jason's "I Killed Adolf Hitler," the Norwegian cartoonist uses the time-honored set-up to explore less the fate of the world than the unhappy people who surround the workings of the plot and how traveling in time may just help them catch up with themselves.
The protagonist is a career assassin-for-hire. He's the kind of guy who gets all the mundane assassin jobs mean bosses, noisy neighbors, wives with a look in their eye. Violence is casual and his life is filled with disconnection he can't even manage to keep interested in his girlfriend. When he's offered the chance to do his job on the one of the most reviled dictators ever, how can he refuse even if it does sound a little crazy, what with the time travel part.
What follows is a hilarious mix between a French bedroom farce the people running through halls and into bedroom doors are folks criss-crossing time by dashing into the time machine here and a Jim Jarmusch movie. It may sound like an odd combination, but Jason is as adept at capturing the quiet awkward moments between travels, the stumbling reconnections that the characters must make across the eras, as he is in the madcap chase aspect. And what ensues is unexpectedly tender.
This is a small story, but its presentation is brilliant and its scope is epic not the time travel or trying squash evil part, but the bit about two people tightening their bond despite all the absurdity that life tosses their way.
Lee Miller: Through the Mirror (Facets Video)
There is a tragedy to the life of photographer Lee Miller that is not one of terror and loss in the usual sense rather, it is a tragedy that something slipped away needlessly despite every reason for it to be everlasting. Lee Miller never became what it seems she should have become, despite the multiple opportunities to achieve that cryptic goal. From model and lover to Man Ray to accomplished war photographer, Lee Miller's life is scattered with pangs of what might have been.
In "Lee Miller: Through the Mirror," filmmaker Sylvain Rou-mette interviews both Miller's son, Antony Penrose, and her lover, David Scherman, in order to discover what lurked behind the beautiful but distracted gaze. In the end, more information creates more mystery and the elusive creature in the photographs remains safe.
Miller's introduction to photography was seedy she was the young model for numerous gorgeous but ultimately disturbing nude photos taken by her father. A stint as a fashion model in New York City gets her to Paris, where her modeling work for Man Ray gets her into the dark room and, eventually, behind the camera. Miller became an accomplished surrealist photographer in her own right, before moving back to New York to pursue studio photography and portraiture with singular artistry.
Eventually, Miller ended up as a war correspondent for Vogue, at first covering the bombings in London and, later, the American march through Germany Miller's shining achievement of both art and photojournalism converging was her coverage of the concentration camps. Miller was one of the first to send images and accounts of the horrors and her work in them was haunting, beautiful, horrifying.
It was after this extremely accomplished career that she took all her photos, stored them away and attempted to settle into a normal life, with husband and son. It was not to be, however she was every bit the woman captured in photographs, apart from the world of others, and though she could fling herself into a love affair, more familial personal interaction seemed harder for her. Miller crept through life with her greatest creation, her child, at arm's length and her personal creations, her photos, shoved in boxes in her attic, meant to be forgotten.
They weren't forgotten and Roumette's film is really a brief statement to those who have not, including her son and his attempt to understand this woman who birthed him. Miller is well worth remembering certainly as a striking woman and muse, but, more importantly, as a visionary and pioneering female photographer.
Roumette's film does a great job at honoring that deserved place in history, as well as giving the viewer a flavor of the mind and eye that created striking images that deserve not to be shoved aside again.
Devilish Greetings (Fanta-graphics Books)
Regardless of your religious beliefs, I think there is one thing that isn't up for debate is the one way the Devil has it all over God his marketable image. God is so many things to so many people, but it's only through the image of Jesus that there is any brand recognition. The Devil, on the other hand, is classic, simple red, with horns, pointy ears, sometimes a tail, a pitchfork and he's ripe for creative interpretations that veer off the standard while still incorporating the greatest hits.
Plus, you can play him for comedy and offend almost no one. You do that with God and some people really get bent out of shape heck, you do that with certain Gods and whole nations will demand your execution. The Devil is pretty safe fodder for yucks, however.
In "Devilish Greetings," Monte Beauchamp offers page after page of historical images of the great beast that are filled with both whimsy and dread, and all points in between after all, what is one to make of an image where one happy looking Satan flies away from a small town landscape with two ginning and staring ladies, flanked by the words "Devilled Lobsters?" Is it meant to creep us out entirely or entice us to a new delicacy? Most of the images aren't that cryptic.
There's a lot of humor at the expense of the loathsome beast he's fashioned into a bicycle for one woman but he's most often paired with the evils of the day, most notably Kaiser Wilhelm and booze. In one cartoonish pair of postcards, men with red and bulbous proboscis are tossed into the flames, which almost passes as subtle in context of this collection. It's not left there, though women of loose morals or perceived loose morals also find his attention and plenty of it. There's a particularly fetching photo duo where a shadowy devil approaches a winsome, half nude lass.
One postcard merrily an-nounces the coming of a comet, the end of the world and the recipient's future in Beelzebub's stomping grounds. He's also utilized in selling, which would seem to be the opposite of what you'd want it sounds like a competitor's dream come true. That doesn't scare away Antoine Inks for using Satan as its spokesperson for an ink removal liquid or Rochbelle Briquettes from doing the same my, oh, my, but the Devil looks rested sitting in front of that fireplace fueled by Rochbelle.
The collection is a flurry of styles and an evil sort of delight from start to finish. There's something extremely healthy about not only putting ultimate evil in its ridiculous place, but doing so with inventive illustration and conception. For those of us who have moved onto more rational world views after the fairy tale scares that the Devil elicited on our younger selves, Beauchamp's invitation to giggle and grin at the beast makes for a delightful exorcism of that silly bit of unpleasantness.