The Realist: Last Day on Earth

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
Abrams, 2022
ISBN: 9781684158379

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Israeli,

Judas

Whether or not you come from a conservative Christian upbringing like me, you probably know the story of Judas Iscariot—the man who betrayed Jesus for 30 silver shekels. Regardless of your religious background, you may have also questioned whether our paths are already chosen. Are we pawns in a chess game, moved by a methodical hand? Judas by Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka takes on the story of the villain in the “Greatest Story Ever Told,” considering predestination and the implications of an omnipotent God who allows really crappy things to happen.

Loveness begins the four-part series with Judas questioning why Christ had chosen him to be the betrayer. As Judas drops the noose around his neck, he says, “I tried so hard… to believe. To be good… but you knew. From the beginning. I never had a chance.” As life leaves Judas, he arrives in Hell, where he eventually meets the source of the voice who spoke to him while he was alive and with Christ. It is Lucifer, the fallen angel, the devil. Lucifer encourages Judas to question the goodness of a man who could so easily condemn other people to an eternity in hell. Lucifer retells the stories of people like Pharoah, Lot’s wife, and Jezebel as all victims of a merciless God. He tells Judas that, “there is no escaping your story,” but then he offers Judas hope to “break the story.”

Loveness uses Bible verses and stories to create an alternative version of the “Greatest Story Ever Told,” and with a twist that I was actually surprised by. While the added detail of a dead mother to Judas’s background did not give me more reason to sympathize with his plight, Loveness did successfully make Judas more of a human and less of a villain. Both Judas and Jesus become fully developed characters; while God, the Father remains a distant chess player and Lucifer is barely given enough credit for his ability to manipulate the “truth.”

Loveness has chosen ideal creative partners with illustrator Jakub Rebelka and letterer Colin Bell. Rebelka swaps the expected color palette, illustrating Judas’s memories of his life and his time with Christ in reds and browns, while hell is in cool shades of blues, teals, and greys. Rebelka gives Judas a medieval halo, but in solid black rather than gold, depicting his status as anti-saint. He brings to life the creatures of Ezekiel’s nightmares with their many eyes, wings, faces, and hands. Bell strategically uses font and color in the dialog boxes, recalling similar use of red font in Biblical texts to indicate the speech of Christ. Bell also depicts Lucifer’s insistence on his version of the story as truth with Lucifer’s dialog penned in white letters on black backgrounds. These and many more details combine to create a visual experience that complements the story without detracting from the dialogue and its heavy subject matter.

This comic will probably best be appreciated by older teens and adults who are familiar with the Biblical story or with philosophical conundrums in general. While Catholic or Protestant readers with traditional or conservative viewpoints might view this story as bordering on blasphemous, the comic merits a read from people of all faiths and backgrounds. It offers another opportunity to consider whether there is an omnipotent Being who dictates our behaviors and if that Being offers mercy and redemption.

Judas
By Jeff Loveness
Art by Jakub Rebelka
ISBN: 9781684152216
BOOM! Studios, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: M

Pizzeria Kamikaze

“Two days after I killed myself, I found a job at some pizza joint called Kamikaze.” So starts Pizzeria Kamikaze, the graphic adaptation of Etgar Keret’s novella Kneller’s Happy Campers, which also served as the basis of the 2006 film Wristcutters: A Love Story.

The graphic novel, written by Keret and illustrated by Asaf Hanuka, is set in an afterlife for people who have taken their own lives. Mordy finds himself there after ending his own life, and discovers that the place reminds him of Tel Aviv rather than the beeping and floating in space he imagined it would be. After finding a job, a place to live, and a new friend named Uzi Gelfand, Mordy soon discovers that his girlfriend is also in the same place. Hoping to find her, Mordy convinces Uzi to accompany him in his search. Along the way, the friends pick up a hitchhiker named Leehee, who is trying to find the people in charge to explain to them that she is there by mistake. With a renewed purpose, the three head out in search of answers through the mysterious afterworld that’s as full of heartache, hope, and absurdity as the world it mirrors.

Just like with all Keret’s writings, this story contains elements of magical realism and dark humor, and is best suited for adult audiences. Political and social themes appear frequently in his writing, as is apparent when Uzi is reluctant to go to a neighborhood run by Arabs. Keret’s aim is to show that none of the socially created animosities matter in the end. At times it even seems that the resigned, despondent manner of the book’s characters suggests that not much really matters in the world he’s created. However, reading the story to the end shows that there is never a lack of things that matter, leading the book to the final hopeful conclusion it needed.

The artwork complements the story arc through expert use of color to show the emotions of its characters. The book starts with a gloomy, muted palette and the drawn in features of the characters. The unrealistic expectations of some of the characters are delineated with bright, blazing colors in some of the panels. In the end, the book concludes with the same muted palette, but there are patches of color here and there to show that any reality can include both light and dark, hope and despair.

As a standalone graphic adaptation, this would be a great addition to any adult graphic novel collection, and would appeal to fans of fantasy and horror such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books, as well as those looking for literary graphic novels.

Pizzeria Kamikaze
by Etgar Keret
Art by Asaf Hanuka
ISBN: 9781684151196
Archaia, 2018