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Cartoon Politics

New graphic novels by Harvey Pekar and Guy Delisle illustrate different takes on the Israeli-Palestinian mess

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Detail from Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City by Guy Delisle. (Copyright Guy Delisle 2012. Images courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.)

Essentially, Pekar went from believing in one set of indoctrination to another—from his parents’ one-sided Zionistic story to the other extreme of liberal, left-wing America—without ever discovering that the truth lies somewhere in between.

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Sacco explains (sort of) why graphic novels are so one-sided. In his latest book, Journalism (Henry Holt, 2012), a compilation of comics from war scenes around the world, he calls “Hebron: A Look Inside,” which appeared in Time magazine in March 2001, his “least successful piece of comics journalism.”

“Working for that storied publication seemed to freeze me up, and I dispensed with my more typical first-person approach and reverted to the objective, tit-for-tat reporting I’d learned in journalism school. For this reason, I failed to adequately convey the great unfairness of making the free movement of tens of thousands of Palestinians hostage to the considerations of the few hundred militant Jewish settlers.”

Even if one doesn’t view the conflict as a “great unfairness,” like Sacco does, reading graphic novels can still give people who only see one side of this issue an opportunity to witness and hear the stories of those on the other. A good graphic novel literally illustrates stories from the region—and that’s where Delisle does an excellent job. In Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City, his deceptively simple, one-dimensional drawings—with none of Pekar’s details and shading—depict a more nuanced country.

Delisle’s wife works with Palestinians, and Delisle witnesses daily indignities living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, such as checkpoint harassment, house demolitions, inadequate local services, and (from afar) attacks in Gaza, but at least Delisle is there. On the ground. Living in Israel, if only for a year.

Chronicles lacks Pekar’s comprehensive history of the Jewish people that puts much of the fighting in context, but Delisle captures scenes that give a much more nuanced sense of what life is actually like in Israel: He spends days at the beach in Tel Aviv, marveling at the whole city’s normalness, and he watches how the Israeli press is more critical of Israel than anyone outside of Israel. After he passes a group of people gathering on a corner commemorating the Sbarro bombing in 2001, he learns about the 55 suicide bombings that have occurred in Israel since the Second Intifada in 2002.

This is not to say that Chronicles is objective. Israel hardly comes off well in Jerusalem. But Delisle—who also did the same stranger-in-a-strange-land shtick in his books Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China (2000), Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (2003), and Burma Chronicles (2010)—is an artist who clearly just draws what he encounters. He doesn’t have an agenda, like Pekar, who wants to upend everything he learned as a child. Or like Glidden in 60 Days, who says: “I came here, I think I wanted to know for sure that Israel was the bad guy. I wanted to know that I could cut it out of my life for good. But now I don’t know. I don’t know anything. I can see why Israel did some of what they did. You guys are good people. At least, some of you are. Or maybe I’m just being brainwashed just like everyone said I would be.”

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Saint_Etienne says:

Nice article.

Good, comprehensive review. I had read “Chronicles” and came away with an interesting take. The author (not sure what to call graphic novelists), I suspect unwittingly, provides a wonderful indictment of some Israelis, mostly Haredim; the NGOs, who seem to send a bunch of people into dangerous areas who have an agenda to carry out, who seem totally unknowledgeable about the background of the region, who are very young and naive, and often seem to have nothing between their ears; and the UN workers, who all seem intent on only doing their time, staying out of the way, and retaining their privileges.

To equate the 1929 riot/pogrom with the madness of one person is a less than apt comparison. Of course, he exhibits his total lack of knowledge by not finding out about the number of members of the Nashashibi family that were killed as “collateral damage” by the members of the Al Husseini family.

herbcaen says:

I wish the walls were higher and deeper, and refuse like Sacco, Pekar, and Delisle were placed on the other side of the wall, kind of like the odor of a tannery or paper mill

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Israel in Graphic Novels

The art of Joe Sacco, Guy Delisle, Harvey Pekar, and Sarah Glidden