In the opening pages of The Realist, a young girl realizes that pet cats are not as compliant as stuffed animals and a high school boy experiences a class lecture from controversial Israeli professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz while simultaneously debating how to break up with his girlfriend. In this way, the commonplace and the existential entwine throughout the panels of this third collection of comics from Eisner winning cartoonist Asaf Hanuka.
Published by Archaia, The Realist: Last Day on Earth collects many of Hanuka’s weekly, autobiographical comic strips and cartoons, each delivered within a single page. The topics are wide ranging. As an Israeli artist grappling with life as a secular family amidst an often-religious society, Hanuka’s work deals a lot with politics, religion, and social issues. He recreates heated debates about Judaism with family members and displays consideration for the deeply engrained faith evident in the landscape around him, even as someone who does not necessarily believe the same. He reckons with a national situation rapidly changing, and often not for the better.
The collection never strays too far from the religious-political violence of Hanuka’s homeland, while some of his observations about modern politics find international relevance amidst the years of the Trump presidency and the coronavirus pandemic. Hanuka’s observations are sometimes precise and biting, other times esoteric, inviting deliberation rather than making a statement.
Though the global is a constant theme in The Realist, there is plenty of space in these pages for the personal as well. As Hanuka relates to his wife and raises two children, there are plenty of anecdotes about domestic life. He ruminates on trading bus trips for riding a scooter. He considers family vacations and what his life might have been if he had lived in a different city, a different country—the course of everything else spinning out from there. In the midst of it all, Hanuka contemplates what it means to be an artist, to be a human, in a world where such things are not always easy, nor do they always make sense. The resulting collection is global and personal, widely human and intimately personal to the man himself.
Depicting all these things, Hanuka’s work is realistically stylized, moving between grayscale and a wide range of colors, between carefully detailed scenes and characters navigating an uncertain void of possibility. The consistency of the visuals speaks to the creator’s depth of experience, deploying humor and exaggeration alongside more somber emotions as the scene requires. There is a solemn angst, a grief, running through much of the book, and Hanuka captures this quietly across the expressions on his characters faces, across each gesture and the sometimes fantastical scenarios and scenes he imagines to explain the concepts he is seeking to capture on the page.
In the end, I recognize that I am not the target audience for Hanuka’s work. Some of what he delivers here resonates clearly, while much of it is interesting but always with a level of inescapable distance from the lived reality he is describing to my vastly different life on another portion of the globe. Some readers will no-doubt enjoy crossing that divide for a time; others may struggle to remain engaged.
Aside from the occasional panel, there isn’t much content here that one might deem inappropriate, but the majority of The Realist is clearly aimed at adult readers interested in delving into the socio-political themes of Hanuka’s work as well as the reflections of a man who has experienced decades of life as an artist, a father, a husband, and a political commentator. For readers who enjoy more literary comics such as those typical of Drawn & Quarterly, as well as international cartoonists such as Chabouté, this compilation could certainly be worth picking up. And for any comics collection looking to expand to more literary and international offerings, The Realist: Last Day on Earth is definitely worthy of consideration.
The Realist: Last Day on Earth
By Asaf Hanuka
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Israeli,