Tuesday, December 16, 2014

THE COMIC RESPONSE TEMPLATE: MODAN’S EXIT WOUNDS (2007)


1.         How is the work illustrated?  Be specific: would you characterize it as sketchy, realistic, cartoony, artistic, ornate, spare, expressionistic, tight, loose, etc.?  What is the overall feel of the artwork, and what kind of tone does it create for the reader?  Do you feel it is the uniquely suited to the story being told?  Consider the differences between Crumb and Cavey’s illustrations for Pekar’s American Splendor

Exit Wounds has a very unique style, which among comics artists places her somewhere in the style of Alison Bechdel or Marjane Satrapi.  I say this because the people are stylized, cartoonish, yet quite realistic.  Modan’s characters might at first glance seem to have emerged from a children’s book, as they are depicted in soft, primary colors with a minimum of facial detail.  Their bodies, however, are rendered beautifully and expressively: indeed, her characters communicate more with their bodies than their faces.  I think this style allows her to transcend the locality/culture of Jerusalem, which some readers might be baffled by, and see Exit Wounds as a universal story about ‘normal’ people in extraordinary circumstances.  However, perhaps the most interesting comparison of her style is to the Russian artist Ivan Bilbin (1876-1942) who became famous for his lavish illustrations of Russian fairy tales and folkore: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Bilibin.  While Bilibin’s characters have more detail, they possess the same otherwordly softness/brightness.  His illustration for Sadko, for instance, might be a Modan original, particularly when comparing both artist’s palettes.  While Modan’s story would work if depicted in a more gritty, realistic style (like Sacco, for instance), I think her style creates an undercurrent of emotion and affection: it helps us get into the lives of the characters and pulls us into the narrative.  Above all, it reminds us that this is not a story primarily about politics or history: it’s about relationships and love above all. 

2.         Why was this story written as a graphic novel?  What might this story lose if translated to a novel, short story, or even a film?  What elements of the story almost require the juxtaposition of words and images? In other words, what does the comic format allow us to see and experience that a traditional novel wouldn’t?  Again, be as specific as possible. 

To me, this is a story about the small details: little clues that emerge only after careful notice, or are missed and forgotten entirely.  The graphic novel teaches us to read expressions and body language, or look into the corner of a frame where an essential clue is lurking in the shadows.  A great example of this is on pages 110-111, when Koby and Numi are alone on the beach after his taxi has broken down.  They really don’t have much to say as they enjoy their picnic lunch, yet their body language expresses the awkward, tentative steps they are taking toward one another.  Modan shows this in a long frame that captures the boundless sea and the empty beach, with our two characters sitting apart—yet almost touching.  Their only words are “It’s so beautiful here” and “Mm-hmm...how about a sandwich?”  Yet Numi’s feet are reaching out toward Koby, while he, with a single arm supporting him at an angle, seems poised to catapult into her.  Modan is also clever at making the mundane aspects of life—a telephone call, for example—reveal hidden depths of character.  While in a novel the call would simply be lines of dialogue, in Exit Wounds, we see one character primping before a mirror, indifferent to the entire conversation, while another paces and throws his arms around, unable to communicate his despair in words. 

3.          Who narrates the story?  One person? More than one?  How do they do this?  Traditionally, narration is told from either a third-person or first-person perspective; how does a graphic novel challenge this approach?  Consider how the form of comics ‘tells’ a story and allows us to see multiple points of view within a single narrative frame. 

Exit Wounds employs traditional narration, centered mostly on Koby’s perspective and immediate surroundings.  However, the narrator is careful to show us details far beyond Koby’s awareness (as with the phone conversation mentioned above), and in one important scene, shows us the inner world of Numi’s household when he calls her for the first time.  The graphic novel works extremely well here, as this entire world is colored in shades of pink and red, which contrasts sharply with Koby’s blue and gray world.  Interestingly, when Numi leaves the room and talks to him in the hallway, the background is rendered in pastel pink (which isn’t the color of the hallway).  Numi, who is not at all a girly-girl, seems trapped in this environment, and of course Koby is completely unaware of this inner struggle.  Only the narrator, with a few visual touches, is able to communicate this to the reader. 

4.            Describe one scene in the novel, either a single frame or a single of frames, that you feel is particularly significant.  Why is this moment so important?  Do you admire this passage more for its narrative (the words) or its art (the images)—or both?  Make sure we can not only see what’s going on here, but we see how it relates to the story at large.

My favorite scene in the novel occurs when Numi has just leanred that Koby’s father (her lover, who has disappeared), actually had another lover, a woman he had known for over 40 years.  So instead of being killed in a car bombing as they assumed, he merely dumped Numi for another lover, another life.  Koby warned her of this earlier, but Numi persisted and even Koby’s resolve began to falter.  Now, however, the truth is unmistakable; Numi bawls in Koby’s taxi as they drive away, saying “How could he!  And with that ugly old hag.”  Behind this statement is her desire to be attractive, or at least somewhat desirable the way her mother (a former model) and sister (whom Koby tells her is “hot”) are.  However, if Koby’s father shacks up with women so indiscriminately, then she has lost all claims on beauty or desirability; she was merely convenient.  Also, she fears that the end of their journey will make Koby leave her, too.  At this point, she clearly no longer cares about the old man but is using the adventure as an excuse to hang out with Koby.  She goes on to lament that “I wish he was dead.  I wish it really was his body.  I’m so sorry, Koby.  Maybe I am crazy.”  The folly of the whole enterprise comes crashing down on her, though unexpectedly, Koby crumples at this sign of vulnerability.  He responds, “He’s the one that’s crazy.  Only a lunatic would walk out on a girl like you.”  This entire conversation takes place in the cramped quarters of a taxi, so we can only see their torsos and faces, and as the scene reaches its climax, the faces become more prominent.  The final three frames are wordless, as she realizes that Koby has feelings for her, and their necks crane toward one another and kiss.  Lest this become too sentimental, the final frame zooms out to the nighttime traffic jam they’ve created, with rows of cars frantically beeping at their stalled taxi.  The juxtaposition of sentiment and humor—and sentiment and tragedy—is a constant theme of this book, and is done with such flair and delicacy that only the finest novelists can achieve. 

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