Rutu Modan talks about process and The Property

“Comic book artist Rutu Modan: Even Superman was a failure in Israel” / Metro / Anthony Cummins / July 25, 2013

Israeli artist Rutu Modan talks frankly about creating her latest comic book, The Property

I didn’t tell anyone in my family that I’d use them as characters in my new book, The Property. The character of Regina, who travels from Israel to Poland with her granddaughter Mica, draws on a mixture of my grandmothers, both originally from Warsaw. I thought of their clothes and hairstyles, the way they used to talk and how they always referred to Poland as ‘one big cemetery’. The character of Yagodnik is based on my uncle. I love him very much but he’s the most irritating person.

I used a tight frame-by-frame storyboard and chose actors, just like a movie director. After taking photos of them acting out the scenes, I went to Poland, took photos of the locations I needed and then combined everything in the drawings.

I’m almost ashamed to say I don’t feel the lousy political situation in Israel influences me that much in my daily life. Is it because I feel life’s too short and that I have too many things to do to be able to deal with the situation I was born into? Or because I’m too frightened or shallow? I can’t say. I’m not proud of it.

Only in my work – in the black humour, in the obsession with death – can I see traces of what I try to suppress every day. In my stories, the drama is there, but always in the background. Against this background – of the Holocaust, the terror, the occupation – my characters live their small lives, just like me.

Remembering and forgetting are powerful tools for dealing with the complexity of personal history and sometimes they become politicised in manipulative and insincere ways. I’m not against remembering – it was a big motivation in choosing the subject of The Property – but I believe forgetting is important, too. If you can’t forget, you can become very angry and ungenerous, which isn’t a pleasant way to go through life.

Rutu Modan's The Property (Picture: Rutu Modan)Rutu Modan’s The Property (Picture: Rutu Modan)
Israel generally isn’t a country for comics. Things have changed in the past 20 years but when I grew up, there were none at all. When I started out as a cartoonist, there were maybe five artists active here. Even Superman and Tintin were commercial failures in Israel.

I can work 14 hours a day because I like drawing comics more than anything in the world. And I don’t need much sleep – five hours is enough. But the main reason I worked like crazy on The Property was that I was afraid of losing interest if it took too long. I convinced myself that if I didn’t finish on time I’d have to give back the publisher’s advance – it wasn’t true but I succeeded in deceiving myself.

I’ve never heard anyone in Israel argue over whether to say ‘graphic novel’ or ‘comic book’. Comics are so new here, people don’t even know there’s a difference between mainstream and alternative styles. It’s liberating.

The Property by Rutu Modan (Jonathan Cape) is out today.

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