Home > Uncategorized > ‘How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less’: A Graphic Novel Review

‘How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less’: A Graphic Novel Review

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is the first graphic novel work by Sarah Glidden, a Brooklyn based artist who is part of the cartoonist studio known as Pizza Island (who notably includes Meredith Gran and Kate Beaton). Glidden has had other comic work done before, mostly in comic anthologies. With that let’s dive into How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less.

Writing:

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (from now on will be mentioned as Israel 60 Days) is a memoir of Sarah Glidden’s own journey to Israel through Birthright Israel, which sends those of Jewish religion/ethnicity to Israel for free in a tour. Glidden approaches the journey as an individual critical of Israeli policies, on the part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I came to this work as somewhat unaware of the conflict itself, beyond what I’ve read minimally. It’s somewhat nice that the work doesn’t make itself a testament towards the conflict, but rather Glidden’s cultural exposure to contemporaneous Israel. I think this works well for narrative purposes, because of the reader’s own perceptions regarding the present conflict, the focus is maintained on Glidden’s own experience and not a political message.

The reader only learns a few things about Glidden in the course of the narrative. Beyond her defined perception of Israel prior to her journey and a few other life details there isn’t much given about her. While it is a memoir, it is more a capsule of her experience in Israel and little else. The reader gets to know her thoughts which help cement her personality. The work is chronological and avoids mundane details, but rather focuses on ‘moments’ in Glidden’s and possibly the reader’s own understanding of Israel. A lot of this moments are emotional and it can become easy for the reader to project themselves in the situation.

All in all, Glidden chose a very appropriate subject to write/draw a memoir on. It also becomes easy to believe that she now works on comic journalism (an awesome field), working herself subjectively into the work. She does have a bias, but that’s part of understanding her journey, and I feel it’s easy for most to grasp despite their leanings.

Design:

The comic design is fairly simple. 9 panels per page with roughly drawn boundaries for each panel. Because Glidden uses watercolors for color it occasionally breaches the boundaries of each panel. But I don’t really feel like that hurts the work or makes it seem sloppy. I’m going to go over this in further detail in the next section. Again, this comic is fairly simple and there’s not much too write about here.

Art:

In the case of ‘Israel 60 Days’ I feel like the art is just as important as the subject matter and lends itself towards creating an effective narrative. As mentioned in the above section Glidden uses watercolor paints as her medium of color. This is done as the third stage, a sketch, and then inked and then finally painted. I recently met her, while the work, at a comic festival and she drew in my copy of the book and she did a sketch and it literally took her seconds (maybe twenty-30 tops) to draw herself. Considering that most of the panels have fairly basic designs (though for the larger scaled places like Jerusalem are more fleshed out) with a focus on particular scene in the panel. Based on this and the relative quickness of her sketches (based on my experience) I imagine the majority work is spent on inks and watercolors.

Her color palette is made up mostly of soft colors. While this might be because of the medium, I imagine that a great deal of this comes at lending itself to accessibility of the work. The softer colors make the world seem more approachable for the reader and quickly to identify and sympathize with Glidden. And when the more emotional moments happen it definitely effects your own experience. The watercolors may at time to seem sloppy, but again, I feel this adds intimacy to the work. It’s obvious that Glidden has a strong control over her medium and using it effectively to strengthen her narrative. Finally, it was nice to see the use of watercolors. It’s refreshing to know that Glidden cares enough about her subject to sketch, ink, and paint it by hand. It’s nice also to see the medium in the comics world at large.

Camels in the desert. A good example of Glidden's use of color.

A sample page

Final Opinion:

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is a refreshing change of pace in the world on comics, mainstream or independent. Her subject matter is an important topic, and her subjective narrative, based on her own experiences approachable, unique and emotional. I became more interested in learning about Israel because of this work. The use of watercolors is definitely unique and nice change of pace. While you may not always agree with Glidden’s own opinions, her approach is commendable by attempting to formulate her own opinion directly without middle sources or accounts. I receommend How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less to anyone who likes journalism, memoirs, interested in the Middle East, or the concept of forming their own opinion directly. On my part I greatly enjoyed this work, and as I said several times already, this work is unique, a nice change of pace and helped stimulate interest in Israel.

Sarah Glidden has recently created a work called The Waiting Room, regarding Iraqi refugees in Syria. This work is journalistic and done in the same watercolor medium. It can be found here:

http://www.cartoonmovement.com/comic/10

She has a website that has images and information regarding other works:

http://www.smallnoises.com/

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less belongs to Sarah Glidden and is distributed by Vertigo.

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  1. Kalen
    April 25, 2011 at 2:26 am

    I keep meaning to read this. So. I probably will. What was the other one? Berlin? Yeah, I need to read that one too.

    • yeshallbeascomics
      April 25, 2011 at 5:03 am

      A ‘Berlin’ volume is coincidentally the next thing I’m going to review.

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