Graphic novelist Rutu Modan, whose debut work Exit Wounds still regularly appears in the kind of ‘graphic novels you should read if you’re not the kind of person who reads graphic novels’ lists and whose second book, Jamilti, was a particular favourite of ours a wee while ago, is back with The Property, another full length work, as political in many ways as Exit Wounds even as it’s a different kind of book entirely.
The tale hinges around a visit paid by a young woman, Mica, and her grandmother Regina to Warsaw to reclaim property that was lost during WWII. We first meet them in the airport as Regina disputes the need to empty water out rather than take it on the plane with her, Mica rolling her eyes as the crowds and the queues variously laugh and become annoyed about the delay. The friction we see between Mica and Regina is the engine that powers much of the humour of the book – although it should be said the humour is light, of the smile variety, wry. The pace, also, is relaxed – this is not a thriller, although it is at times thrilling for a variety of reasons. We follow Mica and Regina to their hotel, and quickly come to glimpse that Regina may have an alternative agenda to that which she has told Mica. As we tread lightly behind Regina and come to learn that she is in fact on the trail of an old boyfriend from the looks of things, Mica, left to herself, explores the city and finds a romance of her own. Also on the scene is a chubby fella by the name of Avram who Regina knows as the son of her friend Alusha but who is in fact going out with Mica’s sister – and Avram makes a nuisance of himself, jumping into any situation in order to spy on proceedings (reporting back to Mica’s sister and making sure she knows he is her man on the ground). Avram’s suspiciousness adds an interesting veneer to the story, as does the history of the family and indeed the city which covers the shoulders of the tale like a cardigan.
But as any Modan fan will tell you, the storytelling is only one of the pleasures you can expect from a Modan book: at least as much pleasure is to be gleaned from the art. Modan’s pallet of muted pastels feels as unique and distinctive as Marjane Satrapi and her eye for detail rivals Joe Sacco. Modan uses her pages to create a vibrant sense of life’s thrum – one only has to read the plane scenes at the opening of the book, which feature a conversation between Avran, Mica and Regina but which are filled with other passengers shouting and throwing cans and yelling. Modan is also tremendously skilful when it comes to both the passing of time and the re-enactment of fidgety boredom (check out the wordless p98 in which Mica’s casual squeeze smokes and draws on his couch to see what I mean). Her people exist beyond the edges of the frames in which she recreates them. The Property is awash with lovely moments – once read, a casual flick through the book reveals fondly remembered delights, little charges that jump from the pages like happy memories – I’m thinking of the gentle spat involving Regina and her former boyfriend, the argument Mica has with her squeeze over his art, the song Avram launches into the cemetery. There are dozens of examples. It’s a consummately satisfying piece of work and further proof of Modan’s importance within the graphic novels ‘scene’ at the moment.
Any Cop?: Although I haven’t seen a great deal written about it, Rutu Modan’s latest warrants a place high up in any end of year best ofs. A really great read.