Sitting on Lucca benches… Rutu Modan (ENGLISH VERSION)

Sitting on Lucca benches… Rutu Modan (ENGLISH VERSION)
We met the Israeli author Rutu Modan on the third day of "Lucca Comics & Games" Exhibition. She was writing ironic and surrealistic dedications on the copies of her book, taking cue from old family photos. The author showed herself very kind, patient and ironic, also while talking about political...

immagine1-3417_Interviste Thanks to the new place of Lucca Exhibition, the interview was held near the publishers’ pavilion, sitting on a stone bench and trying to defend from the northern cold wind, heating the bodies at the pale winter sun. Alberto Casiraghi spent the night reading Unknown/Sconosciuto to know better the author, unpublished in Italy and not renowned outside Israel. As we found later, Modan produced comic strips for more than 20 years and we are now sure that this book is just the beginning of her success on European comics scene.

While preparing the interview, we looked for other works of yours, but we found not that much. Talking about the book presented at “Lucca Comics and Games“, Unknown/Sconosciuto, is it your first approach to the ninth art?
It is not, definitely. I professionally produced comic strips for more than 20 years. I published strips on newspapers, I wrote short stories and I founded a small independent firm with other authors in Israel, that was publishing our works.
However, this is my first graphic novel.

Did you publish your works only in Israel before?
My group produced a book which was translated to English and distributed in the United States and in Europe.

How is your group called?
Actus. This is the link:

Can you tell us something about the Israeli comic scene, something unheard-of?
There is not that much to know, since nothing exists. When I begun writing comics, there were only 5 comic artists in Israel. Some of them were publishing strips on the dailies, one author produced a few books and another one was only writing comic strips for children. In my country, working in the world of the comics was very uncommon. Consider this: Israel is the only place in the whole world where Tin Tin has failed, they published the first book and it went unsold!
Superman does not exist, they do not translate comics. I found comic strips in some magazine for children.

How can you explain this?
I do not know. Every journalist asks me this question during interviews. During the last years more and more authors are producing comics even if there is not a specialized publisher, but the one who is editing children comics.

You mean that 20 years ago there was no space for comic strips, do not you?
Well, however conversely it has been much easier to begin for me, since there was no competition when I started in the Eighties. I used to go to newspapers chief editors, show them my strips and have them printed immediately.

How did you begin producing comics? You did not know much of this world.
When I began, I was skilled enough about comics while not considering them as a real media. I knew Superman but I was not a reader since, being myself a girl, super-heroes were not appealing for me. I was not very familiar with comics, but in my opinion they were a natural mean to express my inner self. I do not know how to tell it. While attending the kindergarten I already wrote a few stories by images, being not aware of the fact that they were comics. This is the way by which I think.Anyway for many years, while attending the high school and the civil service, I completely stopped drawing. After the civil service I came to Europe, to Spain, in 1989 or 1990. There was an exhibition of independent productions: , Moriscal. I fell in love with them as soon as I saw them! “This is what I want to do, it exists, it is possible“, I thought to myself.

We mentioned Tin Tin before: French style with its “ligne claire” is a model for you, is not it?
In my works there are too many references, it’s impossible to single one out. From a certain point of view, it’s been an advantage there was no comics tradition in Israel, since I could take ideas from everywhere. “Ligne claire”, for instance, resulted from the teachings of my Fine Arts Academy master who was Belgian. He let me into European comics, but I’ve been influenced by several American independent comics artists, by Raw Magazine, by , by artists not related with comics scene. My favourite writer, Natalie Ginzburg, inspired my way of writing and telling a story. She influenced my more than any comics author.

Why this title, Unknown/Sconosciuto?
Ask the publisher (laughing)

Has it been a publisher’s choice?
Sometimes a story begins from the title, sometimes you write a story but you are not able to find a suitable title. You provide a list of names and the publisher is the one that takes decisions, and every publisher in every country chooses a different one, picking it up from the list. About the double English-Italian name choice ask the publisher, on my own I have to say that I prefer the Italian word “Sconosciuto“.

immagine2-3417_Interviste The title gives a good idea of the book.
The novel is about a love story that begins and another one that finishes, but everything starts form a tragic event: a bomb in a service area.

I like this description of the plot (laughing). I’ll take a note for next interviews! Unfortunately political facts are strictly connected to all-day life in a place like Israel. Nevertheless I didn’t want to tell a political story, I just meant to tell a story. I just wanted to tell about this boy, this girl and their story, they are not political characters. I just wanted to tell about the human being and to tell what can happen when political facts suddenly break into his private life, changing things and shaking day-by-day life. They are not meant to produce only negative effects. They just produce a change. Stop. It is something that can throw into confusion.
However I tried to shape real characters. For instance, the boy protagonist of the story is not interested in what happens around him. And I know people who try not to be involved in the political situation. While the girl is just superficially interested. These are persons you can meet in real life. I did not want to take side, since that is not art in my opinion.

In the story it is possible to see that the characters are not deeply involved in the political life of their country.
At least they try. But they can not truly succeed.

So you did not mean to produce a political work, but conversely this is maybe a more political way to tell a story.
This is exactly what I wanted to do. I do not want to talk about the end of the story, just know that the protagonist takes a risk abandoning the past and all the rest. It’s exactly what the Country should do, and people too. To drop the past behind and to stop arguing to find who is right and who is wrong in order to finally live together.

You did not want to write a book about those facts, but what do you think about political situation?
Good answer!! (laughing)
I have an opinion concerning the political situation, but why do you think it is relevant?

Because we think it’s relevant to know the feelings and the point of view of someone who is involved in such a situation.
I said “why” in order to avoid to be judged because of my opinion. From my point of view, the situation is frightful and it could get worse. Last summer was terrible and I’m still sad about it. It is not easy to tell my thoughts. When something like this is daily put in front of you, you can experience the absurdity of every single event, you see a lot even if you could not see the whole thing. You see it is so complicated and stupid even if could be so easy… They should start to think out of the box to find actual solutions. If I need a visa to visit my relatives in Jerusalem, I will ask for it. Just an actual solution.

We wonder how can life exists while those tragedies happen, we wonder how can art exists.
Life is complicated everywhere. Anyway living such extreme life makes you able to see more clearly. You see that life is not a cliché. Not only the war, but also the death of someone you love or someone you fell in love with. Extreme situations, after the pain, let you see more clearly.

As like as in the book, there a bomb starts everything. This tragic event shakes and starts the things…
Exactly. You may have an idea about love, war, peace, everything. Tragedies wipe out every stereotype and make you change your point of view.
I’ll tell you about my mother: she died some years ago, she got a cancer. We stayed near her till the end speaking about everything and someone could also think that the situation was a bit kitsch. But it was real to us. Perhaps the representation is kitsch not the moment itself. You can try to express your inner self through your art to avoid the cliché and describe those situation.

Has “Unknown/Sconosciuto” been published also in other countries?
Drawn & Quaterly will publish it in Canada. Somehow Coconino was my first publisher. Drawn & Quaterly will publish the book in the US in 2007, then it will be published in Spain the next year and maybe in Switzerland, translated to German.

Not in France?
Not yet, I’m working on it (laughing)

During the exhibition we saw you drawing being inspired by old photos. Do they mean anything to you?
They are much more than important, I will try to tell why. Old family photos are very intense. As like as they would bring back people from death. I feel a contact with those persons, looking at them in the photos. I think I get deeply bound to the people shown in the photos.

Is it emotional or artistic?
Both. It is touching because you give them new life by drawing, strengthening the memory. Artistically, on the other hand, this way I can draw the real shape of a specific person, not a generic one. Photos let me represent specifically a character. Usually, for instance, we can just imagine someone standing, while looking at photos you can see exactly how that someone is standing and this helps making characters more realistic. Since gestures are a powerful way of expression.

Is there any autobiographic element in the story?
It is not an autobiographic story at all, but I’ve drawn from the experiences of my life, so as from those of other people I met.

That’s all, thanks a lot.
Thank you.

Coconico Press:
TheArtWoks, con una galleria dell’autrice:


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