Even if other posthumous work follows, it likely won’t be any richer than this.

READ REVIEW

NOT THE ISRAEL MY PARENTS PROMISED ME

This posthumous publication reflects the seminal graphic memoirist at his edgy best.

From the grave, the pugnacious Pekar (Huntington, West Virginia “On the Fly, 2011) is still issuing challenges and picking fights. But the handsome hardback publication and the masterful illustration by Waldman (Megillat Esther, 2006) confer a respectful legitimacy that shows how far the genre Pekar helped spawn has advanced since his early comic-book narratives. The tone is quintessential Pekar, pulling no punches, while the focus extends beyond the purely personal to the history of the Jewish people and the formation and essence of Israel. Both of his parents were ardent Zionists, but the author was not. The story begins with a visit by the narrator and the artist to a huge used bookstore in his native Cleveland and ends with them doing more library research. In between, it encompasses centuries and continents against a backdrop of Jewish history (with appropriate flourishes and framing from the artist as the tale moves through Roman and Muslim periods), interspersed with the tale of Pekar’s experiences in Hebrew school, his initiation into the leftist politics of the 1960s, his disillusionment with Israel as an oppressor, and his empathy with Arabs who were seen as the enemy. “Israelis mark this as a war of independence,” he says of the triumph he initially celebrated. “Palestinians call it the great catastrophe.” Pekar deepens the discussion through conversations with the illustrator, who lived for a couple of years in Israel (where Pekar had once attempted to move, but he received no encouragement from the Israeli consulate). Proudly Jewish but increasingly skeptical of Israel’s moral authority, Pekar makes no claim to expertise on Middle Eastern relations: “What do I know? I make comic books and write about jazz,” he admits. “I do know the difference between right and wrong, though.”

Even if other posthumous work follows, it likely won’t be any richer than this.

Pub Date: July 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8090-9482-0

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.

THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION

A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION

A searching interpretation of that sonorous document the Constitution, with cartoons.

Why have a Constitution to begin with? Because, remarks film and TV writer Hennessey—who, even if his prose is bound by balloons, turns out to be quite the Constitutional scholar—the founding fathers were keenly aware that civil rights were never formally written down in Britain, “and that deeply troubled the framers.” That’s as much of an establishing conflict as is needed for a superhero piece, and Hennessey, paired with artist McConnell, does a fine job of turning the making of the document, despite all the dull stretches in the Constitutional Convention that James Madison recorded in his diary, into a drama. Happily, Hennessey is aware of the truly radical origins of the Constitution, even as he notes its conservative strains. For example, he remarks that the system of checks and balances is a remarkable innovation, even if it sometimes seems that presidential actions—as with military intervention in Vietnam and elsewhere—go unchecked. In addition, laws are difficult to make in this country for very good reason: “Otherwise we might get too many of them.” Combining words and appropriate images, sometimes comic and sometimes earnest, the narrative visits such matters as the three-fifths law of determining apportionment, the writ of habeas corpus, eminent domain and conceptions of property and freedom of assembly and movement (for instance, the Articles of Federation forbade “vagabonds and paupers” from crossing state lines). Also covered are the many guarantees Americans take for granted—not least the Ninth Amendment, which states that certain rights not enumerated (“The right to scratch a dog behind the ears?”) shall not be denied.

A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8090-9487-5

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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Playfully drawn and provocatively written, the memoir reinforces Bell's standing among the first rank of the genre’s artists.

THE VOYEURS

“Graphic memoir” only hints at the artistry of a complex, literary-minded author who resists the bare-all confessionalism so common to the genre and blurs the distinction between fiction and factual introspection.

Who are “The Voyeurs?” In the short, opening title piece, they are a mixed-gender group standing on an urban rooftop, watching a couple have sex through a window in a nearby building. They tend to find the experience “uncomfortable,” even “creepy,” though those who remain raptly silent may well be more interested, even titillated. Bell (Lucky, 2006, etc.) is also a voyeur of sorts, chronicling the lives of others in significant detail while contemplating her own. As she admits before addressing an arts class in frigid Minneapolis, where she knows the major interest will be on how she has been able to turn her comics into a career, “I feel I need to disclaim this ‘story.’ I set myself the task of reporting my trip, though there’s not much to it, and I can’t back out now. It’s my compulsion to do this, it’s my way, I suppose, of fighting against the meaninglessness constantly crowding in.” The memoir encompasses travels that take her from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and from Japan to France, while addressing the challenges of long-distance relationships, panic attacks, contemporary feminism, Internet obsessiveness, the temptation to manipulate life to provide material for her work, and the ultimate realization, in the concluding “How I Make My Comics,” of her creative process: “Then I want to blame everyone I’ve known ever for all the failures and frustrations of my life, and I want to call someone up and beg them to please help me out of this misery somehow, and when I realize how futile both these things are I feel the cold, sharp sting of the reality that I’m totally and utterly alone in the world. Then I slap on a punchline and bam, I’m done.”

Playfully drawn and provocatively written, the memoir reinforces Bell's standing among the first rank of the genre’s artists.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-9846814-0-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Uncivilized Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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