Sunday, June 17, 2012

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle

Jerusalem was created after Quebecois cartoonist Guy Delisle and his family spent a year living in Israel. Delisle cared for their two small children while his wife worked for MSF (Doctors Without Borders) in Gaza and the West Bank. His vignettes of their everyday lives are like a series of postcards sent home to friends: his search for interesting playgrounds for his kids, the frustrations of transportation within the city, the omnipresence of soldiers with rifles... that kind of stuff.

They lived in East Jerusalem, which is the Arab quarter. The disparity between the east and west sides of the city are illustrated in Delisle's clear, cartoony style. He has a quirky way of drawing himself in profile, with both eyes on one side, Picasso-like. The artwork is mostly black and white, with one other soft hue, except for occasional effective splashes of a brighter colour. Images from Jerusalem can be seen in this brief clip on YouTube.

single panel from Jerusalem
When he wasn't with his children, Delisle enjoyed sketching scenery. He was particularly fascinated with the graphic design possibilities offered by the giant wall that separates the two sides of the city. Sometimes soldiers made him move, telling him he wasn't allowed to sit alongside the road. One day he met a man who lived right next to the wall, selling roasted corn at the roadside after losing his land when the wall was built. Delisle sketched the man and I like this panel (from page 271) because it shows two different sides of Delisle's art.

About 10 years ago, Canadian author Deborah Ellis interviewed a number of Israeli and Palestinian children, then published their voices in Three Wishes. One of the questions she asked was if the Israelis knew any Palestinians and vice versa. The answer was no in almost all cases. Delisle asked a young graphic artist in the West Bank if he had ever met any Israelis. "I met one once in Jericho. A real nice guy. I remember I asked him if he'd ever been to Ramallah. He said, 'Yeah, I've been to Ramallah... in a tank.'"

The original French language edition was awarded the prestigious Angouleme award. Drawn and Quarterly published the English translation in April 2012. The situation in Israel and Palestine is such a complicated tangle that I welcome the opportunity to read observations from outsiders like Delisle. Jerusalem is an absorbing travelogue and memoir.

Readalikes: Joe Sacco's masterpieces of comics journalism: Palestine and Footnotes in GazaHow to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden; and also Delisle's earlier travelogues, Pyongyang, Shenzhen and Burmese Chronicles.

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