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Wednesday, May 17, 2000

When words collide

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2000 at 12:00 AM

The comic books of Tel Aviv artists’ collective Actus Tragicus are handsome objects – with slick production values and intriguing full-color art – as well as good reads. Jetlag, the collective’s recent collaboration with Israeli novelist Etgar Keret, is as attractive as ever. But most of these five tales are more strange than interesting, and, furthermore, suffer from not being written to suit the comics form. Keret seldom takes advantage of the visual storytelling possibilities of comics, instead writing long paragraphs of narrative that sit in blocks beside the drawings; the art is left to mainly reiterate the text without advancing the story. Rather than show, Keret tells; the result is more a collection of lavishly illustrated short stories than comics.

The piece that works best as a comic is "Margolis," about a young boy who’s more attached to his piggy bank than to the money inside. Yirmi Pinkus’ loose brush drawings and melancholy, suburban colors set the mood, and his use of drawings that sometimes contradict the child’s narrative amplifies the boy’s confusion about his father’s attempts to teach him the value of a dollar.

But certainly the strongest piece here is "Passage to Hell." Every 100 years, the souls of the damned get a day’s vacation from torment, which they must spend in a flyspeck town in Uzbekistan. A young woman who sells snacks and souvenirs to these sulfurous tourists falls in love with one of them, a mysterious and handsome Casanova type, who weeps when he can’t consummate their brief relationship. After he breaks the rules to return to her a second time, the portal to hell disappears, and he with it. Mira Friedmann’s striking woodcut-like artwork perfectly depicts the characters and setting, simultaneously evoking European art-house films and centuries-old folklore. "Passage" alone is nearly worth the $14.50 cover price.

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