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Review: 'Journalism' by Joe Sacco, 'Jerusalem' by Guy Delisle

These two books show comic artists and writers depicting a very real world.

June 17, 2012|By David Ulin, Los Angeles Times Book Critic

A similar sensibility informs French Canadian comics artist Guy Delisle's "Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City," although he and Sacco have different points of view. Delisle, after all, is not a journalist; he is a father, in Jerusalem for a year with his young children and girlfriend, who works for Doctors Without Borders. Still, if his book is less reportage than travelogue, a biblically inflected "Stranger in a Strange Land," the intent, to re-create real events in comics form, is very much the same.

"Hey! These paving stones date back to the first century," Delisle realizes, wandering the Old City. "Baby Jesus could've walked on these … And Judas … And Paul and James and Luke and John and Peter and Andrew … and Simon and Matthew and Mark and … uh … I've hit a wall." That tone of both discovery and befuddlement becomes the defining sensibility of "Jerusalem," which is, remarkably, a book about the miraculous serendipity of the everyday.

This is not to say Delisle is oblivious to the conflicts of life in Israel, nor that he is apolitical. Yet the power of "Jerusalem" lies in its essential good-heartedness, Delisle's curiosity. He seems open to every experience and every type of person, from the priest who offers him studio space to the Arab Israeli who explains why he lives in a Jewish settlement: "Many Arabs have moved in for economic reasons, and little by little, our numbers are growing.... It's like we're resettling the settlements. Ha ha!" Later, at a comics workshop in Nablus, Delisle discovers a different kind of culture clash, offending many of the young Palestinians by showing images of nudity.

Still, when he encourages the remaining artists to work from their experience, the connections (and the point) are palpable. "Nablus … the big prison. That's what we call it here," a student says. Delisle's reply? "You could do a comic about that." It's a small moment, a throwaway even, but if "Jerusalem" is any indication, he is right.

david.ulin@latimes.com

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