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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Bart Beaty Reviews The New Actus Book, How To Love
posted April 15, 2008
 

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By Bart Beaty

It may not technically be a Euro-Comic, but since I received my copy at Angouleme I'm going to talk about the new Actus book, How to Love, all the same.

The first new Actus book since 2004's Dead Herring, How to Love demonstrates that there's no keeping a great Israeli comics collective down. Flipping through the earlier Actus books, I'm struck by two things: by how much I liked and admired each of their efforts as they were published, and, nonetheless, by the fact that their material takes huge strides forward with each new book. Dead Herring seemed a quantum improvement on Happy End, which seemed a great leap from the Actus Box, and so on. How to Love is no exception to this rule.

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The book is comprised of six short works, all on the theme of love. Joining the core Actus members this time out is Israeli illustrator David Polonsky, whose offering is a series of stunning drawings coupled with romantic text describing fantastic and magical stories of love. The narrow-minded will complain that these image/text conjunctures aren't "comics," but I'd like to focus on the fact that they're absolutely wonderful. Polonsky is a revelation.

Batia Kolton, from whose story the cover is derived, opens the book with a story featuring young women at the beach. Kolton focuses her story on a young girl who is secretly fascinated by her more worldly neighbor. The story here is deliberately slight, but I love the way that Kolton's framing depict the girl in the most melodramatic poses imaginable. Despite the objective framing, we learn a lot about young Dorit simply from the way she lies on the sand.

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Mira Friedmann's "Independence Day" is set in the spring of 1966 on the border of Israel and Jordan. Young Nili is enamored of her classmate, Benny. Caught up in the patriotic songs of courageous young men, she sneaks across the border into Jordan, where she is quickly captured. While an international crisis brews around her, Nili takes bold action -- she steals a pen from the desk of a government functionary. Sadly, when she gives the pen to Benny, her brave exploits -- and her love -- remain unrecognized. Friedmann's is another small, slight tale, but it is almost perfectly crafted.

"Love Love Love," by Itzik Rennert, is, like Polonsky's work, a series of drawings and text, but in this case the relation seems even more arbitrary. The drawings are spectacular, ranging from inked images that recall his earlier comics to photo montages. Some will find the work too "illustratorly," and the texts too oblique, but I found these to be the most compelling work in the book, and I've returned to this piece already a number of times.

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Of course, Rutu Modan won a prize at this year's Angouleme for the French translation of Exit Wounds. Her story here seems to reflect the flip-side of her own international success. Shabtai is an unsuccessful Israeli singer invited to perform in Sheffield, home of Joe Cocker and the Arctic Monkeys. When he arrives, he learns that he is playing a Jewish Community Center for an audience who have never heard of him and have no interest in him. As the story progresses, it is easy to get caught up in Shabtai's frustrations. Yet the character of Jackie, his Methodist/Jewish number one fan, and her faith in him, is so endearing that even when the story veers into a very dark place it always feels optimistic -- perhaps unreasonably.

Finally, Yirmi Pinkus' near-silent "8:00-10:00" is the most upbeat piece in the book. The story of a morning, it is the one tale that provides us with a simple, affirming vision of romantic love. Thoroughly charming, Pinkus ends the book in perhaps the most appropriate manner possible.

All in all, How to Love is another beautiful little Actus book. Although I don't know for sure, I would assume that the book will eventually be distributed to comic book stores by Top Shelf, so keep your eyes peeled for it when it arrives. You won't be disappointed. It's great to have the whole gang back together again.

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1. Cover by Batia Kolton
2. David Polonsky
3. Mira Friedmann
4. Rutu Modan

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Those interested in buying comics talked about in Bart Beaty's articles might try here or here.

Chris Staros confirms that this books will be available from Top Shelf in the June issues of Previews for August release into comic book shops.

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