11.04.2010

Graphic Novel Of The Month

How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (DC/Vertigo): It’s not often you see a contemporary cultural reaction to the Jewish diaspora in as accessible a format as a personal travelogue presented as a graphic novel. This story, which was originally begun in serialized mini-comic format and distributed by Sparkplug Comics, is about Glidden seeking to reconcile her identity. To some extent, it’s a process everyone goes through, in attempting to “discover their roots,” find themselves, who they are, where they came from, what social aspects might inform their very being, and what inborn characteristics may drive their personality. Glidden participated in an Israeli “Birthright” Program which provides funding for young Jewish people to visit Israel and take part in guided tours of different historical sites and cultural touchstones. Glidden’s work here is sort of a cousin to elements of work like Craig Thompson’s travelogue Carnet de Voyage, or Joe Sacco’s more investigatory and documentarian style output. Glidden’s art looks at first like pretty typical small press stylings, with simple figures and representational background detail, but the addition of color adds a richness and complexity of emotion that complements the intricacies of the somewhat convoluted history of the region. To most westerners, the Holy Land (and the Middle East) by extension is a riddle wrapped inside a mystery inside of an enigma. There’s little focus in schools and decidedly biased presentation in the media. How to Understand Israel depicts Glidden’s own attempt to sort it all out, and while she might not come away with a concrete understanding, resolved political position, or ultimate set of beliefs, her journey allows us to tag along and benefit from some of her firsthand insight. The book is the rare piece of comic book work that doesn’t feel like disposable pop culture; it not only engages and entertains, but educates in the process, straddling the line between entertainment and artistic cultural artifact. Grade A.

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