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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Cargo: Comic Journalism Israel-Germany, Various
posted February 24, 2006
 

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Since returning to Canada from Angouleme with two suitcases full of comics I've had to make business trips to both sides of North America, which resulted in a temporary cessation of my Euro-comics reading. But while I have another trip to the coast next week, I have finally unpacked my bags, assessed the comics that I picked up in France, filed them on the to-be-read shelf, and, happily, got down to the task of reading them. With all this flying hither and thither, is it any wonder that I was instantly attracted to a book called Cargo?

Cargo: Comic Journalism Israel-Germany was the last book I got in Angouleme, as it was given to me by Johann Ulrich at the Hotel Mercure bar around 5:00 am the night before I left. Johann is the publisher behind Avant-Verlag, a terrific German publisher primarily producing translations (Igort, Joann Sfar, Stefano Ricci, and the German versions of the Ignatz books from Coconino that Fantagraphics are doing the English editions of), but they have also released a couple of spectacular new works. The first of those was , by the authors of the same name. The newest is Cargo, released simultaneously in German and English editions. The English version will be solicited by Diamond shortly (if not already), and you owe it to yourself to pick this one up from your local shop.

The concept is straight forward. Six cartoonists participating in an exchange of talent between Berlin and Tel Aviv, traveling to a foreign country and recording their journalistic impressions. The introduction, by Henryk Broder, makes much of the important historical relationship -- and mistrust -- that exists between Germany and Israel, although this is a theme that is not nearly as strong in the six comics that make up the book.

Tim Dinter opens the book with "Small World Big Orange". One of the Monogatari cartoonists in Berlin, Dinter documents his voyage to Tel Aviv, where he knew absolutely no one. By meeting a series of friends of friends, he quickly finds himself drawn into a social nexus where frequent connections are made to his life back in Berlin. Small world, indeed. Dinter has a beautiful, loose line that is reminiscent of Posy Simmonds, and his pages are composed of large tableaus with frequent small inserts. The overall effect is striking, warm, and friendly -- perfectly apropos for the story that he is telling.

Yirmi Pinkus' "Black Milk", after the poem by Paul Celan, is at once more conventional and less straightforward. Pinkus, one of the founders of Actus Tragicus, produces a series of four-panel pages, each of which has a surfeit of text. Each panel is topped by lines from Celan, and narrated at bottom by Pinkus himself. On occasion, dialogue enters the middle of the plane. This makes for a disorienting reading experience. Keeping the multiple written strands in one's mind simultaneously is a challenge, but an interesting one. When the strands come together at the end, the result is very powerful. This is a very strong piece.

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Jan Feindt's "Roadmap" is an amazing work. Feindt, who studied illustration in Tel Aviv under Pinkus and Rutu Modan (see next), currently lives in Berlin. His story is set primarily in the Negev Desert, among the Bedouin for whom healthcare issues are pressing. This is probably the truest piece of "journalism" in the book, and it ranks among the best post-Sacco journalistic comics that I have ever read. It is powerful, and visually striking. Feindt's clear-line inspired art is fantastically direct, and when he breaks up the pages at the end when presenting David Brosa's "Mitachat Lashamaim", I was genuinely moved.

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Rutu Modan, also of Actus and also one of Feindt's teachers, gives us "The Observer", the least typical piece in the book. This is ten single full page illustrations, each totally without dialogue. Some might even suggest that it isn't comics (but they'd be idiots). In recent years, Modan has been drifting more and more towards a classical clear line style, and that is on full display here. These are lovely, humane portraits of city life in Berlin. I'm wondering if they're for sale?

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Jens Harder's "Ticket to God" is the other total stand-out for me in this book. Harder, whose website was profiled on comicsreporter yesterday, is one amazing talent. Another member of the Monogatari group, his Leviathan was one of the best comics of recent years, and this proves it was no fluke. A lengthy and complex portrait of religious sites throughout Jerusalem, the most contentious real estate on the planet, Harder brings his amazingly detailed portraits to life through quiet observation and staggering juxtapositions. This is a mini-masterpiece, and it made me anxious to visit the city and view it through the lens of this emerging comics master.

Finally, the book is rounded out by "Memories" by Guy Morad, one of the authors associated with Tel Aviv's criminally under-rated Dimona group. Morad tells the story of a young man on his way to a Pixies show in Berlin, who loses his bag but finds romance in the arms of a young woman who grew up behind the wall. Morad's style is a semi-cross between Adrian Tomine and Debbie Drechsler, and he improves with every project I see from him. This one moved me with its story of a stranger going to a party in Kreuzberg, because the last time I was in Berlin Cargo-publisher Johann Ulrich took me to a party where I knew no one. Perhaps that's just what the Germans do?

Well, we can say that another thing that they do is publish amazing anthologies. The work on display here is entirely first rate, and well, well above the standard in recent American comics anthologies like Mome. Beautifully produced (though there are about five "typos"), this is the first strong contender for book of the year. Don't miss it when it comes through the Diamond pipeline.

cover, Jan Feindt (women with scarves), Rutu Modan (Alexanderplatz), Jens Harder (scratchier drawings of Jerusalem)