Jetlag: Five Graphic Novellas

Graphic Novel Reviews

Jetlag: Five Graphic Novellas

Actus Tragicus

$14.50 (paper)

Yirmi Pinkus and Rutu Modan founded hip Israeli comics collective Actus Tragicus after the tragic crash-and-burn of their 1994 project: an Israeli edition of MAD magazine. Since then, several other leading Israeli comic artists have joined their ranks, and in five years of commune-style comic production, the group has built an international rep for hip solipsism and a hefty list of publications, culminating in this compilation of five graphic novellas by its members.

Comic book artists on this side of the pond may be shocked by the group-effort m.o. of the collective. The story ideas are arrived at by consensus, and as a result, Jetlag has a steadier tone than the average compilation, and it reads more like intense literary magazine poems set to lush illustration than the average American comic. No superheroes here, just plenty of meditation on hope and despair, lots of anxiety and intrigue, and a hefty dose of nonlinear meandering and self-revelation.

It's not as if Jetlag's contribution to the arty comic genre will come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the likes of Neil Gaiman or Love and Rockets. But the work of Actus Tragicus is certainly novel in its other-worldly aesthetic. Visually, the eyes are vacant, the themes morbid, particularly in "HaTrick" by Batia Kolan, in which a magician is confused and upset to discover in his hat first a decapitated rabbit and then a dead baby. The understated conclusion begins, "I can't do this trick anymore. I used to love it, but ..."

Though the comics are based on stories by young Israeli writer Etgar Keret, they have been translated into English by Dan Ofri in order to reach a larger audience. It feels like something, maybe coherence or rhythm, is lost in the translation. The grotesque pseudo-plots translate in an eerily choppy, exceptionally disjointed fashion. With the stories' plots already surreal, the result is a chaotic clatter. Think Kafka in Finnish, if you spoke Finnish and Kafka wrote in Greek. Rather like attempts the travel agent hero of Modan's story "The Romanian Circus" makes to communicate with his tightrope-walking love interest across their vast language barrier. But if sense gets lost, many cool points are garnered. When she leaves him with a paralyzed monkey, things look bleak but when he turns around, he looks behind him and sees "between a million sad buildings, a wondrous sunrise ... dawning." Such glimmers of hope balance out the anxious paranoia of the collection.

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Jetlag: Five Graphic Novellas, Etgar Keret, Batia Kolan, Yirmi Pinkus, Rutu Modan

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