EXIT WOUNDS in The Oregonian

“Exit Wounds” / The Oregonian / Steve Duin / June 13, 2007

In Monday night's memorable dinner with Jerry Weist, Mike Britt and Dick Wald, I picked up the check ... a reality check, at least. Early in the evening, I asked these three guys -- fans of the comics' medium for 40 years or more -- if they'd read Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. The best graphic novel of 2006. Time magazine's book-of-the-year.

And none of 'em had ever heard of it.

My dilemma, then, is this: If Fun Home is still unread, unappreciated, unrecognized, what's to be done with a graphic novel like Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds? A good chunk of the readers of this blog, I suspect, have yet to take the plunge on graphic novels. If they are finally ready to invest $19.95 in this uncharted territory, is Exit Wounds -- for all its merits -- where I'd suggest they begin? No. Not even close. I'd suggest Fun Home, of course, and Dylan Horrocks' Hicksville, Craig Thompson's Good-Bye, Chunky Rice, Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese and a few Alan Moore adventures, and only then, when they're familiar with the landscape, would I suggest an evening with Modan and this Drawn & Quarterly production.

Exit Wounds is the first graphic novel for Modan, a 40-year-old Israeli writer and artist who has won four Best Illustrated Children's Book awards from Jerusalem's Israel Museum. (Her March Newsarama interview is here.) As the tale opens, Koby Franco, a Tel Aviv cab driver, is approached by a female Israeli soldier named Numi, who says, "We need to talk."

"Remember that suicide bombing in Hadera three weeks ago ... The one in the bus station cafeteria? One of the ... bodies was so badly burned that they still don't know who it was. No one came to identify it. No relatives, no friends, nobody. Doesn't that seem strange to you? Someone disappears and no one gives a damn?"

Koby is stifling a yawn when Numi adds, "Anyway, it was probably your father."

How would Numi know? Well, she was sleeping with ol' Gabriel, news that Koby takes almost as well as the report of his estranged father's passing. But it isn't long before Koby and Numi hit the road, trying to determine if the reports -- make that non-reports -- of Gabriel's death are exaggerated. It's a disastrous trip. They quarrel incessantly, even as they fight to track the footprints he left in so many different gardens. All the while they are shadowed by the bittersweet uncertainty over whether they ever want to reach the road's end.

Modan presents what may be the lumpiest cast of characters ever seen in a graphic novel. Because she labors to present those characters at odd angles and in the most unflattering light, Modan and her readers must work overtime to find the interior decorating that redeems them. The effort is both exhausting and rewarding. Exit Wounds bristles with the discomforting candor and dysfunctional family drama you find in the back-page column of The New York Times' Sunday Magazine. You're on your own in deciding if that's to your taste.

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