Friday, December 28, 2007

PROPAGANDA Best of 2007 - number 4
Exit Wounds

Exit Wounds

Written and illustrated by Rutu Modan

Koby Franco is a young man working a taxi in Tel Aviv, his life is a slacker’s mess, he lives with his Aunt and Uncle and co-owns the taxi with them. Life is nothing but a cycle of work and sleep, with seemingly very little else to fill it. He speaks to his sister rarely and his Dad not at all after an estrangement following his Mom’s death.

But this changes on the day he’s hired to taxi Numi, a female soldier. Suddenly he’s confronted with the possibility that his Dad’s just died in a recent suicide bombing. Numi’s own life is suddenly and intricately entwined with Koby’s as it becomes obvious that Koby’s father and Numi were lovers up until a few weeks ago when he disappeared. She needs Koby to give a DNA sample to prove the identity of an unidentified corpse from the blast, but Koby is angry and storms off.

(Numi and Koby don’t exactly hit it off at first in Rutu Modan’s Exit Wounds, published by Drawn & Quarterly)

But his interest and curiosity are piqued and he starts looking for his Dad on his own. Reluctantly he agrees to help Numi and the pair go on a road trip of sorts trying to discover the truth and, in doing so, come to realise that the man they are searching for has a far more complicated life than that of father or lover. By the end of the book Koby’s father’s fate is still uncertain, but his life and his secrets are slowly revealed until it seems that his non-appearance in the story contributes far more than his presence would have.

Strangely for me, the first thing to mark this book out as one to read was the sublime artwork. It’s immediately recognisable as European clean line but it’s one of the finest examples of the clean line style I’ve seen for years. It’s also a sublime mix of influences; with HergĂ© and Joost Swarte the most obvious. It’s the combination of simple foreground lines, a glorious, bright palette of colours in the foreground and most importantly, a subtle fade / wash effect on the backgrounds that gives every panel a slightly ethereal feel. I’m not an art fan generally, I’m far more interested in the writing. But this book warranted three separate readings, and at least one of these readings was purely concentrating on the artwork.

In Exit Wounds Modan has blended a very tender love story, a detective tale, a road trip of personal discovery and a meditation into love and loss into one fluent and moving book. But if you like your fiction complete with a tidy resolution you’re not about to find it here. There’s no traditional beginning, middle and end. Instead we’re visiting a moment in these character’s lives, observing their reactions to strange and unusual situations and then moving on. It’s a literary device rarely used in comics, but works spectacularly well in Exit Wounds.

(family arguments come head to head with the reality of suicide bombing and sudden, violent death in Exit Wounds, (c) Rutu Modan)

But one problem remains – if it’s this good, why hasn’t it been feted high and wide by the Guardian and other usual notable sources? It’s perfectly suited to join Maus, Palestine, Chris Ware, Persepolis and Fun Home as examples of literary Graphic Novels that cross over to real world success. But Exit Wounds hasn’t made the same critical inroads (although it has been highly lauded in comics circles).

The title probably has something to do with that. Call it Tel Aviv; A Love Story or something similar and the Guardian would have been all over it. A closer reading of the indicia shows that the title came from the translator; Noah Stollman. Modan should have ignored the suggestion. Someone who writes this well would surely have been able to give us something better than Exit Wounds, with its off-putting connotations of Hollywood shoot-em-ups.

But please, please, don’t be put off. Just because the Guardian hasn’t shouted about it means you get to impress your literary friends with your discovery. Go down to your local store and demand Exit Wounds.

Originally posted at FPI Blog here.

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