Where do the personal and political collide? For Asaf Hanuka, raising a family in Tel Aviv with his Arab-Jewish background, married to a woman of Polish-Jewish origin whose father was killed by terrorists, the answer is at nearly every turn. In The Realist, Hanuka explores the minutiae of life with a toddler, fights with his wife, trips to the car mechanic, social media obsessions, as well as the larger challenges of living with the daily threats of terrorism, the strong-handed Israeli social policy, providing for his family financially and emotionally, and producing both meaningful and lucrative work as an illustrator.
If The Realist is any indication, he is definitely succeeding at the meaningful bit. Hanuka is a fantastic and bold illustrator—his illustrations are often breathtakingly muscular and tender at once, highly detailed and thoughtfully colored. The book’s cover where Hanuka depicts himself as a worn out boxer coaching his young and sweet son to finish the job is actually an excellent example of his bold and gentle style. In many of his strips, he juxtaposes and intermingles darkness and innocence, the simple joys of life and how quickly adults muck them up. The best description of Hanuka’s imagery is sinewy—whether through muscle fibers, guts, ribbons, or wires, things connect, get tangled up, and burst forth loudly in Hanuka’s emotional, inventive, and unexpected imagery.
The Realist collects Hanuka’s weekly strips for the Tel Aviv newspaper “The Calcalist,” which is both a strength and a weakness of this particular volume. The mostly standalone pages offer Hanuka the chance to experiment with different methods of storytelling, whether they be a single intricate image or an involved story about shopping at the ultra-Orthodox grocery store. Much of it sticks, some of it doesn’t, but it’s all a wonder to look at. Many strips focus on political tensions between Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, and looming threats (and realities) of both terrorism and military retaliation. Unfortunately, while Hanuka created these strips for an audience all too familiar with the very particular conflicts and threats they reference, it is not nearly so easy for the less-than-fully informed American reader to parse the Hankua’s timely commentary, and one ends up feeling a bit frustrated and lost. From reading the full volume, he seems to have a complex, nuanced, yet ultimately cynical view of the situation—but some serious footnoting for the uninitiated would be welcomed and really kick the reading experience up a few notches.
Ultimately, The Realist, by virtue of being a collection of strips without a unifying context is less than a fully satisfying read. What it is, however, is a fantastic showcase of Hanuka’s poignant artistic style, and hopefully a foretaste of a more cohesive and challenging personal memoir to come—I want to know all about his life! Finally, The Realist is an excellent sampler of Hanuka’s skill for visual storytelling, through a combination of deliberate symbolism and journalistic realism. If you are moved by the work in this volume, you’ll soon be scrambling for more.
by Asaf Hanuka