Rutu Modan interviewed by the BBC

“Pen lines from the front line.” / BBC / Abi Bliss / June 21, 2007

Like many of us, Rutu Modan’s first exposure to comics was in the antiseptic limbo of a dentist’s waiting room, this early contact inspiring her to start drawing strips about her kindergarten friends. Comics were pretty thin on the ground in 70s Israel, however, and it took an exhibition of alternative titles several years later to rekindle her passion. With a group of like-minded friends, Modan founded the collective Actus Tragicus, whose publications kick-started the Israeli indie scene.

“The reaction was variable, because the culture is very crowded,” she says. “Every step you’re making is like you’re stepping on someone’s leg. At the same time, it inspired many people to start their own small publishing houses.”

After a decade of shorter works with Actus, Drawn And Quarterly commissioned Modan’s first full-length, solo graphic novel. Published here by Jonathan Cape, Exit Wounds follows Koby, an aimless Tel Aviv taxi driver who is corralled by a woman named Numi into a quest to discover whether the unidentified victim of a recent suicide bombing is actually his estranged father — Numi’s lover. It’s a subtle, naturalistic work, where characters heavy with emotional baggage move awkwardly through a Hergé-influenced world of clean lines and moody palettes. The twin inspirations are David Ofek’s documentary No. 17, about a nameless bombing victim whom nobody seemed to be missing, and Modan’s own experience of when a past boyfriend stopped phoning her and she began to wonder if he was dead.

True to this more personal hurt, Exit Wounds refuses to make any big statements about Middle Eastern unrest. Instead, from the chirpy banter of mortuary assistants to others’ resigned shrugs, the unpredictable threat of death only highlights characters’ isolation. “People build shields around them, and part of that shield is black humour. It’s like you are unreachable,” Modan says. “The people in my book are so concerned with their own problems that they don’t pay attention to people around them.”

Whilst Koby’s unresolved relationship with his dad dominates his thoughts, each of the other characters is trapped in their own sticky web of family misfortunes. “The family is like a lab for human relations. Something is very tense and extreme, and I think society is like the family on a larger scale.”

Yet Exit Wounds draws to a tentatively hopeful end, as Koby and Numi both learn to, as Modan puts it, “Stop looking for solutions, stop looking for closure. Stop looking for who is right and who is wrong and what is in the past. If there is any political statement in the book, I think this is it.

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