Virtual Memories Show 460:
Rutu Modan

“I don’t feel that I finished everything I want to say with comics. I feel like comics are my way to express myself and tell my stories.”

With TUNNELS (Drawn & Quarterly, tr. Ishai Mishory), Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan has created a fantastic, thoughtful, wonderful, hilarious, complex, cinematic thrill-ride of a story about a search for the Ark of the Covenant in modern-day Israel and the West Bank. We get into the true-life origin of the story, the otherwise boring results of Israeli archeology, the research that went into TUNNELS, and what it taught Rutu about her own upbringing and how the Bible is taught to Israeli children. We talk about her cartooning and storytelling influences, her less obvious tributes to Herge, her use of actors in costume for drawing reference and how they influence the characters in her books, TUNNELS‘ use of location as protagonist, and what it was like to draw a book with so many outdoor scenes, instead of the urban settings of her previous books, Exit Wounds and The Property. We also get into the growth of the Israeli comics scene over the course of her ~30 years in comics, her time with the Actus Tragicus comics collective and her secret origin as a cartoonist (she comes from a family of doctors, so being an artist was not an easy path), whether she considers herself an Israeli cartoonist or a cartoonist who happens to be from Israel, why she tries not to think of her audience beyond one trusted reader, her first pandemic trip to . . .Siberia (!?), our flashback to when I interviewed her in 1998, and more! Give it a listen! And go read TUNNELS!

“Do you ever feel like you belong anywhere? In Angouleme, I feel like I’m in the right place, that I want to be part of this world.”

“People from the outside Israel tell me my work is Israeli, but being Israeli means I’m open to all kinds of influences, because you’re not committed to a long tradition.”

“Drawing is like music; you have to rehearse a lot.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Rutu Modan is an illustrator, comics artist, and associate professor at the Bezalel Academy of Art & Design in Jerusalem. After publishing several comic strips in the Israeli media, she co-founded the Actus Comics group. In 2008 her book Exit Wounds won the Eisner Award. Her 2013 graphic novel The Property won the Eisner Award for Best Graphic Novel, the Special Jury Prize in the International Comics Festival in Angouleme, France, and the first prize for best book of the year in Lucca Comics & Games Festival, Italy. Rutu’s comics and children’s books have been translated into 15 languages. In 2013 she cofounded an independent publishing house specializing in comics for young children. Her new book is TUNNELS, from Drawn & Quarterly.

Follow Rutu on Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Rutu by Hanan Assor. It’s on my instagram.