There’s the Joe Sacco kind of graphic novel about places—gritty, journalistic, each panel exploding off the page—and there’s the Guy Delisle kind of one, funny, whimsical, sparse, yet insightful.
I like both.
Sacco has written on Palestine, Israel, Bosnia, and many other conflict zones.
Delisle, who lands up in newsworthy but reclusive places by accident—his partner works for non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières in French—has written on Pyongyang (the book that made him famous after Time reviewed it in 2005), Shenzhen, Burma, and, now, Jerusalem.
There have been other books on Israel.
There is Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, which has featured in this column before (“The Birthright tour”, 11 February 2011). Back then, I wrote: “… a comic book is a great way to address and depict serious issues. It is as if the simplicity of the medium and the sheer incongruence of having serious issues depicted in a medium associated with men in tights and the funnies somehow increases the poignancy of the story being told.”
I couldn’t put it better.
Glidden’s book is autobiographical, and she used watercolours to get her story across.
Delisle’s books are always autobiographical, and he uses cartoon-style illustrations, but the poignancy is still there. Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City (Jonathan Cape London) is probably his most ambitious and complex work to date. Delisle’s strength has always been to use the mundane and the routine to tell a larger story. He does that to good effect; there are anecdotes about shopping, driving and maids and also about stone-throwing, checkpoints and security checks, and random acts of cruelty and violence, all of which pass for the quotidian in Jerusalem. The larger story itself is of a city that has historically been important to different people for different reasons and which is also the setting for a conflict that started in the 20th century and continues into the 21st, a conflict that is at once political, economic, cultural and military.
I could be wrong, but Jerusalem is probably Delisle’s longest book, and it is not all that hard to understand why.
It is a conflict that has affected Arabs, and it is a conflict that has affected Jews. Delisle, who strives to remain neutral, presents both sides of the story. His Jerusalem is not what you’d find either in the travel glossies or serious writing about the Palestine conflict. Yet, despite its underlying humour, Jerusalem presents a factual, journalistic, and an all-too-human picture of reality.
Yes, it’s still a comic.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.