'Jerusalem,' 'Daniel Clowes,' 'Graphic Canon'
It's almost gotten to the point where we can expect a graphic novel about the Israeli / Palestinian conflict every few months. There was Joe Sacco's scorching "Footnotes From Gaza," about the injustices visited on a section of the Gaza Strip and how the victims misremember the abuses, then "How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less," Sara Glidden's everybody-has-some-good-points memoir of her Birthright Israel trip. Now comes Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City" (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95). The cartoonist, whose wife works for Doctors Without Borders, has written dispatches from Myanmar, North Korea and China -- wherever his family is stationed -- but "Jerusalem" is easily his best travelogue to date.
Rather than compose soul-searching memoirs or rigorous investigations, Delisle works more or less in the style of a daily gag cartoonist, illustrating a little mishap or joke or incongruity for every few days of his year in the country. Yes, there's material about mistreatment of the Palestinians, and discussion of the morality of the West Bank settlements, but it's all through the eyes of a guy who's trying (and failing) to buy diapers, or who spends an afternoon running errands and trying to work with his toddler lengthily recapping a "Tom & Jerry" cartoon in the background. Funny stuff, and though it's frequently trenchant, it never scolds.
The joke in the title of "The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist" (Abrams ComicsArts, $40) is that Clowes' visual style is about as retro as it gets without a time machine. This excellent retrospective of his work from the late 1980s onward, edited by Alvin Buenaventura, showcases his visual gifts and always evolving style; his beautiful early stuff looks nothing like his beautiful later stuff. Clowes is a "real" illustrator (one of the best and funniest strips, later made into a movie, is a bitter satire based on his grad school experiences called "Art School Confidential"), and his caricatures from 20 years ago are just as visually interesting as the later graphic novels "Ice Haven" and "Wilson." Clowes started off appropriating the stylistic quirks of 1960s and '70s comics and animation to talk about the things that '60s and '70s culture weren't addressing, but this book gives a sense of how his work has grown to make room for genuine emotional and narrative depth. Oh, and read the essays, too -- everyone from "Simpsons" writer George Meyer to fellow cartoonist Chris Ware has something interesting to say about the artist.
Contrary to what Brit singer-songwriter Ian Hunter might have you believe, Cleveland does not rock. Harvey Pekar was practically the poet laureate of Cleveland, a position for which there was little competition, and while he didn't make the place out to be anything more than it was, his totally unsentimental appraisal of his beloved city in "Harvey Pekar's Cleveland" (Top Shelf, $21.99) helps us better understand how someone could love the place. And it reminds us, sadly, of how much easier than that it was to love the late Pekar ("American Splendor"), whose stories worked best with someone like this book's Joseph Remnant illustrating them. The book ranges much wider than Pekar's usual fare, starting off as a very dense history of the city and then expanding into a bigger rumination on art, life and, horrifyingly, poverty. Remnant's huge panel of a 70-year-old Harv wailing to the skies, "GOD, I hope I can keep eking out the bread!" is as moving as anything in any of Pekar's books. And that's saying something.
"The Graphic Canon" (Seven Stories Press, $34.95) is absolutely the most ambitious book I've picked up this year. Composed of literary adaptations by everyone from Rick Geary to R. Crumb -- some previously published, some not -- the series sets out to trace the evolution of storytelling from the very beginning (specifically, the 4,200-year-old "Gilgamesh"). It doesn't always work, but it succeeds often enough for me to hope that the "Vol. 1" on the spine isn't just an idle boast. Some of the entries, such as Hunt Emerson's eye-popping "Inferno" and a gorgeous take on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Sanya Glisiccq, are worth the price of admission by themselves. But why choose someone other than Eric Shanowercq, whose incredible "Age of Bronze" stories have been adapting Homer for years, to do the section from "The Iliad"? With so many big names having adapted parts of the Bible -- from Basil Wolverton to Neil Gaiman -- why no more than a brief excerpt from The Book of Revelation? I'd like to call upon editor Russ Kick to address these oversights -- preferably in volumes 2 through 36.