The graphic complexity of Israel, through the eyes of a cartoonist
The award-winning Chroniques de Jerusalem, recently released by Quebcois comic book author Guy Delisle, is the latest graphic novel to explore the intricacies of Israel and its geopolitics.
Israel – its conflict and its paradoxes – has become a source of inspiration for cartoonists from all over the world, who seek to explore this hot topic through a combination of graphics and narration.
In 2008, the Quebecois comic-book author Guy Delisle moved to East Jerusalem for the year, following his wife, who worked at the time for Medecin Sans Frontiere.
“We only found out we were going there a month before we moved. We thought we were going to Japan. I had no particular interest in Israel and the conflict at the time,” he says in an interview with Haaretz.
It is probably this fresh look on the conflict that has made Chroniques de Jerusalem – the graphic novel he would eventually publish at the end of 2011 – so appealing to the French audience, where it is now becoming a best-seller.
Neither Jewish nor Arab, Delisle explores Jerusalem and is able to observe this strange world with candidness and humor. He spent his year in Jerusalem as a self-described “attentive observer”, dedicating his time to a blog, filled with sketches and anecdotes. When he returned home, his blog turned into a book.
Guy Delisle is not interested in writing about geopolitics – others have done it before him. Hewould rather talk about the complexity of buying nappies in Beit Hanina when the Arab store is closed (and when he has been told not to buy at the settlers’ supermarket nearby), and wonders - what if Arabs themselves do buy from this store?
Humor rises from those daily anecdotes told with expressive drawings and a deliciously ironic tone. But most of all, those stories convey what life in East Jerusalem is about for an expatriate.
“We are told a hundred times in the news what a colony is. But until you go there and see what it is, it is impossible to understand,” says Delisle.
Guy Delisle had a whole year to learn and observe everything. Drawing in corners of rooms, sharing moments of life with Jews, Arabs and fellow expatriates, he reveals his experiences without aiming at objectivity.
“No one is really ever objective anyway. Of course, I have a left-wing perspective.” A man once criticized him during his year in Israel for his lack of objectivity, he says. That man was a settler, he adds.
Delisle's is not the first graphic novel to explore Israel in its complexity.
In 2010, American cartoonist Sarah Glidden published How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, a graphic novelbased on her Birthright trip. Close to Delisle in her approach, she arrived in Israel with a skeptical outlook and attempted over the course of her experiences to make sense of the country she discovered.
Cartoonist Joe Sacco's Palestine, a graphic novel released in 1996, contained much more of a political bent than seen in either Delisle's or Glidden's works. Sacco had spent two months in the West Bank and Gaza during the first Intifada, asking Palestinians to share stories of their daily lives, their struggles and humiliation.
Delisle's graphic novel, Chroniques de Jerusalem,is the most recent graphic novel to be published on the subject andwas awarded best comic book of the year at the comic book festival of Angoulême.