‘How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less’ finds humor and heartache

Nov. 30, 2010 | 5:02 a.m.

On Sunday, Hero Complex contributor Deborah Vankin wrote about Joyce Farmer and her 208-page illustrated family memoir “Special Exits.” Today we continue our look at  female cartoonists, with Vankin’s snapshot portrait of Sarah Glidden.

how to understand israel How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less finds humor and heartache  Sitting on the sidelines doesn’t come naturally to Sarah Glidden. In 2007, she yearned to better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so she signed up for a free, two-week Birthright trip to Israel. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is her literary debut, a 206-page graphic memoir rendered in simplistic drawings that are rounded out with careful, delicate watercolors.

Just out from Vertigo/DC, the book is part travelogue, part coming-of-age memoir and part intrepid if relentless quest for cultural understanding.

Despite the intensity of the subject matter, it’s dotted with humor — especially in Glidden’s fictional depictions of historical figures —that add moments of intermittent levity. More than anything, Glidden makes a distant, volatile political situation deeply personal, and the upshot, for her anyway, was life changing.

“I wouldn’t say [the trip] changed my political leanings in that I stopped sympathizing with the Palestinians or stopped being upset about certain things that the Israeli government does,” says Glidden, who was raised Reform Jewish and now describes herself as agnostic. “But it did open up the whole situation for me and make me realize just how complex it is.”

Incidentally, Glidden’s discovery story is right up there with Lana Turner getting plucked off a bar stool at a Hollywood soda fountain. She was staffing a booth at an indie comics festival in New York, where she grew up and still lives, selling Xeroxes of her hand-drawn mini-comics, when an editor at DC Comics stopped by. And the rest, as they say…

Glidden is now traveling in northern Iraq and Syria, visually chronicling a group of journalism friends for her next book. “The idea is reportage comics about reporters,” she says. “To give people an idea of how journalism works, all the human stuff that goes into reporting a story.” Likely no sidelines there, either.

— Deborah Vankin


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