Jerusalem: A Family Portrait by Boaz Yakin & Nick Bertozzi
Writer: Boaz Yakin
Artist: Nick Bertozzi
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: April 16, 2013
Boaz Yakin is better known as a screenwriter than a comics guy, and Jerusalem: A Family Portrait is only his second effort in the medium. His graphic novel debut Marathon, a blurry riff on the epic battle between the Persians and Greeks, was fine, but also demonstrated the steep learning curve inherent in switching to a new storytelling format. Jerusalem: A Family Portrait is a more progressive, ambitious work that follows two sides of the same family during the birth of the State of Israel from 1945 to 1948.
Yakin doesn’t try to proselytize through this work, despite (or possibly because of) his Jewish heritage. Unlike American feelings about Israel, which tend to be broad-brushed, the political leanings of folks in the Holy Land hold a much wider range. Siblings Avraham, David, Ezra, Devorah, and Motti Halaby demonstrate that ample spectrum, from artist/communist/pacifist to Zionist fighter, respectively. Okay, so Devorah doesn’t get much to do. Yakin can only pack so much in, even in nearly 400 pages, and the girls tend to occupy the sidelines. Some of the finer complexities are lost, too.
For example, all languages appear in the same typeface, and contextual clues are the only way to clarify what’s spoken. Visually indicating which tongue characters express (French, Hebrew, Polish, English) would have been helpful, especially when characters change up languages or fail to understand what others are saying. There are ways of doing exactly this in comics; Rutu Modan’s upcoming The Property does a fantastic job through the use of italics and other typographical devices. As in his inaugural work, Yakin’s plot can also also veer toward extreme violence. Marathon was basically one big battle scene, and although Jerusalem is an improvement, it features quite a bit of dismembering and massacring of the innocent. Sure, these harrowing moments may be true to life, but they still border on overkill, especially without more context. Bertozzi’s art is solid if less than exciting, with clearly distinguishable characters (a necessity) and dramatic body language. There’s nothing particularly creative going on here, but what results is effective.
Ultimately, Jerusalem: A Family Portrait is reasonably compelling with its dynamic politics and wide scope, even if it tries to pack too much in and, on the whole, is a move in the right direction.