Sunday, 31 May 2015
The Realist by Asaf Hanuka Review
The Realist is a collection of Asaf Hanuka’s weekly strips from Israeli newspaper The Calcalist, translated into English for the first time.
They’re all a page long and mostly autobiographical, focusing on Hanuka’s fears, neuroses and insecurities, his Polish wife and their infant son, and life in Tel Aviv. Tonally they’re a mix of wry observational humour, magical realism, self-deprecating goofiness, and sober commentary.
In one strip his car’s in the shop, bloody intestines leaking out of the hood as Asaf sobs to the mechanic who looks at it like a doctor. In another his wife transforms into a werewolf and devours him when she’s on her period. In another he and his wife are arguing and he ends with “At least I’m real” as a pen inks in his face on the page.
Some of the issues are real - looking for a place for his family to live after they’re kicked out of their rental, worrying about money, keeping his marriage stable - and some are bizarre like his Facebook “likes” obsession where one page is just him with a wire from his computer into his veins, “likes” spewing from his open mouth into the air!
The art is absolutely fantastic and many times I’d turn the page to be blown away by a striking image like Asaf as a robot, his head open and the child version of him sitting in a chair looking worn out, or Asaf sitting at his desk drawing, gun to his head, pulling the trigger and colourful ideas floating out of the other side of his head.
The format killed it for me. It’s a collection of weekly strips so everything has to be contained within a single page. Reading page after page of that stop/start style doesn’t make for easy reading so I had to put the book down more than a few times to get through it - there’s just no flow to the book. There is a longer narrative at the end where Asaf comically imagines life in Tel Aviv in 2031 which I really liked. He can do sustained storytelling and I’d love to read something like that from him in the future.
The format and the fact that more than a few strips were fairly forgettable - weekly strips are usually like that - meant that The Realist didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I liked a lot of the strips and the art, and it’s definitely above average, but I can’t say I really liked it overall.