Broadening The Mind
Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its fifty-second choice, Jerusalem – Chronicles From The Holy City by Guy Delisle, reviewed by Tripwire contributing writer Joe Gordon…
Jerusalem – Chronicles From The Holy City
Writer/ Artist: Guy Delisle
Drawn & Quarterly
Canadian creator Delisle has really carved out a niche with his travel literature as comics over the years, with Shenzhen, Pyongyang, the Burma Chronicles and then Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City, which won the Favue d’Or at the prestigious Angoulême festival in January 2012. I’ve been following his work for years, with the top Canadian Indy publisher Drawn & Quarterly translating them into English (with Jonathan Cape usually doing the UK editions). Travel lit has always been a big seller in the booktrade, and it surprises me that there aren’t more comickers exploring that field as, to my mind, the comics medium allows not only for the author’s description of the places and people they see, but also visual interpretations (and those benefit from coming via the eye of an artist, who often spots interesting little details many of us would miss).
By this, his fourth volume of travels, Delisle now has a family – a wife and two young children. His wife’s (Nadege) work with the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières takes them to all sorts of places, and they are usually there for at least a year. This is another aspect of Delisle’s work I like – this isn’t just the normal travel lit writing of someone who passes through a place, takes in some of the local sights and culture and then moves on to the next destination. Instead Delisle (and his family) are actually living in that country. They will be exploring it, but they will also simply be living there and having to do the regular day to day things any household has to do anywhere in the world – where’s the best nearby place for shopping, to get a car (and get it fixed when needed), to take the kids to play, to let them meet other kids to hang out with, schools for the kids, finding local cafes and restaurants you want to go to, meeting new people and building a new circle of friends in your new home.
I think it is very much to his credit that Delisle puts as much effort into covering the everyday side of living in another country – hey, let’s be nice and support the Palestinian shops, except, hmmm, only the Jewish supermarket does wine and the good nappies for the little one too, closed Saturdays, of course though – as he does to encountering the brutal architecture of the dividing “peace wall” or the controversial settlements, or a visit to the old quarter where you can see different denominations of Christian priests arguing over who has the rights to each square foot of building (only in Jerusalem!). We’re treated to an expedition to a nice park or zoo with the kids as much as a visit to the Wailing Wall.
This aspect of Delisle’s work really grounds his books, I think, makes it personal, approachable, something we can all empathise with, and the fact he is having to actually live there for so long, rather than just visiting like a tourist, allows him to see more, learn more (not least from the people he meets and befriends and what they tell him). It’s all depicted in a fairly simple, quite cartoony style of art, which is effective at conveying some of what he sees and feels as he explores his new home; some of it is quite funny, some of it rather sobering. He tends to avoid soap-boxing and, while you can maybe infer some of his opinions on some of what he encounters, he isn’t strident about his opinions, and often presents the material, the people, the events, the history, and allows the readers to draw from it what they will.
With the combination of that approachable, everyday family life aspect and the interest in exploring other places, I’ve found Delisle’s work can appeal to those readers who rarely look at graphic work, but have found this very much to their taste. It’s one of those books with a lot of crossover appeal that you can give to your muggle non-comics reading friends (I’ve loaned his books to several chums who didn’t even realise the comics medium covered material like this, and found they were then more open to other comics works afterwards). It’s a fascinating glimpse into the differences and similarities of other places and cultures, and another fine example of the many different subjects our beloved comics medium can explore so effectively.
Here’s links to the other graphic novels reviewed so far