Craig Thompson (#110 of 2)

Far from Home Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

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Far from Home: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
Far from Home: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

A question for the history of the graphic novel: Will anyone ever write a cartoon equivalent of Moby-Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or For Whom the Bell Tolls? Will there ever be a cartoonist who in his or her real life does a bunch of dangerous and exciting stuff, such as work on a whaling ship, pilot a river boat, or fight in a war, and who then sublimates those experiences via the imagination into a work of fiction that’s vivid and dense and spiritually substantial? More specifically, will there ever be a cartoonist who can combine with his or her comics all that you get in Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin (the audacity, the action, the energetic globetrotting) with all that you get in Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (the disappointment, the ambiguity, the baroque psychology)?

Guy Delisle’s new Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is a nonfictional graphic novel about being far away from home in an occasionally dangerous and precarious and confusing place. It’s about living for a year in Israel while trying to be a husband, a father, and an itinerant cartoonist. Insofar as it’s a memoir, Jerusalem is low-key and humorous, and brings to mind Ross McElwee’s documentary Sherman’s March. Insofar as it’s a travelogue, Jerusalem is inquisitive and observant, and brings to mind another doc: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. As a whole, the book is both enjoyable and instructive; it makes you chuckle and grin, and it makes you feel like a more informed, concerned citizen of the world.

The No-Bullshit, Razor-Sharp Fun of Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey’s The Steel Seraglio

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The No-Bullshit, Razor-Sharp Fun of Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey’s The Steel Seraglio
The No-Bullshit, Razor-Sharp Fun of Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey’s The Steel Seraglio

The Steel Seraglio flirts with the danger of Western authors appropriating Middle Eastern culture to patronizing ends—a criticism levelled at Craig Thompson’s beautiful but flawed Habibi. But Mike, Linda, and Louise Carey—husband, wife, and daughter—clarify their ideas in the rich tradition of Middle Eastern folklore like butter in a pan, scorching away any nascent orientalism. What’s left is universal in its appeal and precise in its humanism. In this, the novel resembles the folktales it takes after, flavored with the timelessness of fantasy—a confident One Thousand and One Nights for our present.

This timelessness proves an intelligent way to engage with the dangers of dogmatism without falling into the trap of exclusionary politics. It allows the authors to avoid overt references to present-day ideologies and religions by establishing a prehistory that precedes Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as we know it. Mike Carey has said that he and his coauthors wanted to play off “real world expectations of gender relations.” This is after all a story of Bessa, the “City of Women”—how it became so, and why it doesn’t actually exist in this or any other time.

Bessa’s transformation into the City of Women begins when moderate Sultan Bokhari Al-Bokhari is executed and replaced by fanatical zealot Hakkim Mehdad and his Ascetics, who “shunned the pleasures of the world, but hounded those who lived by them.” The dead Sultan’s harem of 365 exiled concubines must find a way to escape across the desert and reclaim their city from his tyrannical rule. In doing so, they create a place that is a symbol of freedom, one “ahead of [its] time” and ahead of ours too.