Israeli writer/illustrator Asaf Hanuka’s second collection of his weekly comic strips is set to be released: an autobiographical look at a his life with his family and his musings on daily life as a normal man living in Israel. Translated to English from its original Hebrew, the 112 page volume features both the collected strips and full page illustrations. Is it good?
Writer: Asaf Hanuka
Artist: Asaf Hanuka
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Since this a comic strip collection, there isn’t a narrative thread to break down for you. The best example I can give is that the tone reminded me of some Calvin and Hobbes strips where the boy and tiger were rolling down a hill in a wagon and discussing life at the same time. Hanuka fills the strip with his own life’s details and idiosyncrasies, such as living with children, the relationship with his wife, and the daily grind of getting off the couch to get something to eat. His writing has a humorous slant, though there isn’t a punchline waiting at the end of each panel. It comes through in the way he puts a spotlight on his own bad habits and those of society, and how silly it is we repeat them even when we are aware there might be a better way.
He touches on societal issues, but doesn’t preach, instead using examples from his own life. In one instance his son sees a Segway and asks why they can’t buy one, as he is tired of walking. This turns into his earnest explanation of how they don’t buy what they don’t need, not just because of some higher moral position, but because things like food are more important and remarking that they are happy regardless. After the talk the last panel finds him carrying his son on his back. The panels have both pathos and sweetness without being depressing or cloy.
The strips can be surprisingly varied from one page to the next, as one may deal with Asaf shopping before a holiday, only to find he has no money. The rest of the strip is his self-analysis after someone pays for his food, and whether he would do the same for someone else. In another his wife’s words blur together as she tries telling him about a new appliance she thinks they need and his mind wanders and he imagines himself being washed, ironed and hung on a clothesline.
However, a few themes do reoccur. It’s evident he worries a lot about consumerism and how it’s become our new religion. Others deal with living a typical, almost mundane, life in Israel that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to most Americans. However, besides just worrying about his family’s health, his finances, and what movie to see, he also shows himself dealing with the anxiety of living in an area prone to terrorist activity and the very real possibility of a missile strike.
Besides the comic strips, there are many full page illustrations. For a book titled The Realist, many of the singular images are often surreal, like one of him playing soccer with his own head, or being blown into small pieces as the balloon he is inflating explodes. They are all very well done, with a Salvador Dali feel to them. When he does incorporate those types of fantastic elements to the art, it plays as a nice contrast to the more realistic look of his family’s characters.
Some of the most poignant pages are the ones that contain no text at all. One example shows him taking pictures of his daughter at different stages of her life with his smartphone, with her looking unenthused. The last image is of her taking a picture of his body covered with a sheet in a hospital bed after he has died and is being rolled away. It’s titled “Smile,” and sounds much grimmer in my description than it appears on the page, but says something about being removed from our own lives, without any text at all.
Is It Good?
This is a brilliant collection of comic strips. Mr. Hanuka uses the format to great effect as he unloads his thoughts into the characters and action on the page. He has a talent for having characters say the right thing with an economy of words, which is something many writers struggle with even when they have a larger format to work with. It was surprisingly lighthearted, considering the topics that come up from time to time, and his own character’s anxiety and worries. Had it been fatalistic or strictly cynical, with the author’s finger waving at everything he thought was wrong with society, it would have been completely forgettable. Instead, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read that made me both think and smile through the entire book.