Saturday, February 16, 2013

Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me by Harvey Pekar and JT Waldman

I first got to know Harvey Pekar through his autobiographical stories in the American Splendour comics. Born in 1939, he is the cantankerous son of Jewish pro-Zionist immigrants from Poland. In Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, Pekar and graphic artist JT Waldman take us back several millennia through Jewish history, creating context for the complicated current situation in the Middle East.

Dissenters* like Pekar who criticize Israel's hard line position have been vilified by others in the Jewish community, but that hasn't stopped him from speaking his mind. He can work up a pretty good rant.

"I know that we Jews have been the most viciously persecuted ethnic group to survive. We were scattered from our homeland, yet after 2,000 years we've come back to regain some of it. But the Palestinian Arabs are not going anywhere. Their ancestors lived on the same land. They still live in Palestine. And as long as they do, they will fight for independence, and there will be ceaseless conflict."

The quality of JT Waldman's grey inkwash art is a bit uneven, but Waldman has done interesting things to enliven what is basically a long interview with Pekar. The panels portraying Pekar at the age he was when they were working on this book are more realistic than the scenes from his childhood. Interspersed with the Cleveland setting are images from world history, displayed like framed artwork from different ages: Persian miniatures; Roman mosaics; European paintings and so on. The Islamic sections reminded me a little of Craig Thompson's work in Habibi.

At one point, when the conversation between Waldman and Pekar takes place in a car, the panels snake across the pages like a road. Perspective shifts from inside the vehicle to a bird's eye view, showing off the lovely architecture of a bridge they crossed.

Waldman's inventive page layouts include embellishments from whatever era Pekar happens to be going on about -- Art Nouveau and Art Deco ornamentation in the early 20th century, for example. Towards the end of the book, as Pekar admits he has no idea how to resolve the Zionist issue, the panels are set within the background of a maze.

Harvey Pekar died in 2010. His widow, Joyce Brabner, wrote the epilogue that brings this book to a satisfying close.

Readalikes: Footnotes in Gaza (Joe Sacco); How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (Sarah Glidden); and Jerusalem (Guy Deslisle).

*Sarah Schulman has recently been barred from reading from her new book about the Israeli-Palestine conflict at the LGBT Center in New York City.

No comments: