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posted July 17, 2012

imageCreator: Guy Delisle
Publishing Information: Drawn And Quarterly, hardcover, 320 pages, April 2012, $24.95
Ordering Numbers: 1770460713 (ISBN10), 9781770460713 (ISBN13)

I like Jerusalem the most of all the Guy Delisle travelogue books, even though I realized two-thirds of the way in that this was likely going to be a minority opinion amongst devoted comics-readers. In Pyongyang and The Burma Chronicles, Delisle had the luxury of living in proximity to largely crystal-clear issues about which most people have little to no practical knowledge (I certainly don't). Everything he told us was welcome news, and very little of it would grind against our previously held beliefs. Jerusalem is infinitely more problematic. Not only do opinions on issues like settlement abound like weeds in an abandoned suburb, the very act of choosing to live there and all the attendant acts that follow have political overtones, like it or not. Delisle can no longer be our friendly stand-in because of where he's standing. Any move he makes is likely to come with a tut-tut from someone in the audience.

I admire that Delisle still sort of tried to negotiate this system of locks in some sort of furious but rational way, doggedly even, a strategy I bet infuriated a lot of readers. I can understand the impulse that some must have felt to grab Delisle by the lapels and shout in his face that he should read this, that or the other source before extending an opinion or making an observation, but Delisle hasn't changed. He's never been the admirable traveller, engaged and wise. He's just a working artist engaging different parts of the world with that art. What's changed in Jerusalem is the landscape. Where Jerusalem is at its most fascinating is how it shows the same issues coming at Delisle fresh and under slightly different guises. Not only are the problems facing that part of the world difficult to the point of intractability, they're relentless. By depicting himself in the unflattering light of someone buffeted by events or slipping past them rather than taking them on, Delisle dares us to conclude we'd conduct ourselves any differently. I don't think that being reminded we're largely helpless in the immense complexity of world events is a bad lesson at all. Nor is a bad thing to learn anew that we're never as smart, prepared or cosmopolitan as we think we are.