April 16, 2009

a4947e7616aeb8Diane Obomsawin
Drawn & Quarterly, 2009

Kaspar tells the tale of Kasper Hauser, the 19th century wonder who baffled society when he mysteriously appeared in the streets of Nuremberg without language or identity. A sealed letter reveals what little there is to know about the young man, who is taken in and enters the world as a curio to be analyzed and pondered.

In this version, graphic artist Obomsawin bases her interpretation on the actual writings of Kaspar Hauser, and from there creates a story of innocence lost, despite the skepticism and controversy that continue to surround his life and death. The novel takes a childlike and simple tone, most probably influenced by the way Hauser portrayed his own story. What results is a character subject to the whims and wills of the people around him, to whom he owes both his painful fall and the bittersweet pleasures it brings.

Reading Kaspar one is charmed by his appreciation of nature and his tendency towards poetic thought. The appeal of such a foundling, and the philosophical and humanistic implications of his unique condition, are presented here anew for a world unfazed by tall tales. Unaware of contrary accounts of the story of Kaspar Hauser, the reader is amused and intrigued. How can what he claims possibly be true? And yet, the pure and at times infantile way that Hauser views the world coaxes one into believing.

Obomsawin does a terrific job of ignoring public opinion and recreating the fable as Hauser would have had the world believe. Whatever her reasons, she proves that such a story, real or ruse, has the ability to charm and if nothing else, entertain. Kaspar tells of the suffering and joy of a man coming into the world for the first time: earnest and unadorned, it captures the novelty and wonder that such an unusual experience brings, and hovers delightfully over the rim of “what if”. Reviewed by Marianne Perron, 2009.


Exit Wounds

April 9, 2009

a451165f22c05bRutu Modan (translation by Noah Stollman)
Drawn & Quarterly, 2008

Exit Wounds is the first full-length graphic novel by Rutu Modan, and it’s received lots of attention. Set in modern-day Tel Aviv, it tells the story of Koby, a young taxi driver contacted by a woman concerning the disappearance of his father. Faced with the possibility of his father’s death during a recent suicide bombing, Koby is moved to confront years of anger and disappointment while reluctantly assisting Numi in a search for answers to the mystery.

What at first seems like an open-and-shut case grows into a scavenger hunt for clues, as Koby and Numi follow the trail of the man they thought they knew (or, in Koby’s case, thought he didn’t know). What they discover leads to more disappointment, and unexpectedly brings them closer together. Both are haunted, however, by their inability to offer forgiveness for the pain they’ve suffered.

Artistically, Modan’s work finds the perfect balance between simplicity and complexity, creating depth without resorting to sentimentality, and depicting the horrors of life in Israel without emotional manipulation. Reading praise for Exit Wounds, one is repeatedly primed to encounter subtlety and nuance, and those are indeed Modan’s strengths. There are no fireworks or symphonies in this work. Instead Modan quietly works towards a picture of deterioration and sadness, and tells a story of deep-rooted anger and stubbornness in the face of forgiveness. Reviewed by Marianne Perron, 2009.