There is no other place like it. The beauty, the history, the strife… and in Boaz Yakin’s new original graphic novel “Jerusalem,” on sale in April from First Second Books, the writer has focused on each of these aspects of Israel’s capital city with the detail of a jeweler’s loupe. With Yakin’s words, artist Nick Bertozzi captures Yakin’s story about family, belief and the war absolute that breeds from both.
“Jerusalem” is not easy to digest, nor should it be. It requires — it demands — patience. It is a tapestry. It is a poem. And it’s a project film director and writer Yakin has been working on for a very, very long time. Yakin spoke to CBR News about the story’s roots, how Bertozzi became involved and why First Second was the proper home for it.
CBR News: Boaz, you clearly have a strong personal interest in the subject matter presented inÂ “Jerusalem.”Â How long have you had this story inside you, and what was the motivation to make it into a graphic novel?
Family, death and struggle are huge themes woven throughout the book. Were these common themes in the stories you were told growing up?
They were, but almost off-handedly. My father was an actor, mime, and theater director. When he told my brother and I stories about the Jerusalem of his childhood he acted them out with such exuberance and humor that what we generally came away with was a sense of enormous fun and freedom. We always felt like losers that our life was so dull and undramatic, while his was so full of color and adventure. I think a feeling for the deeper and more nuanced aspects of that experience began to be felt by me a little bit later in life.
How did you and artist Nick Bertozzi come to work together on this project? What was the collaborative process like?
Nick was suggested by Mark Siegel as a strong contender to draw the book, and after exposure to some of his work I was sure he was the right guy for it. Having worked with him, and seeing the finished product, I am sure beyond a doubt there is no one who could match what he did in telling this story. I know people always say things like that when touting their project, but in this case it could not be more true. Nick is one of the best and most underrated (hopefully not for long) cartoonists in the country. His sense of character, performance, storytelling and layout is tops. Like the comic book equivalent of one of Disney’s Nine Old Men. He’s an open and patient collaborator, and I’m proud to have worked with him.
Having written the piece as a screenplay, my main task was editing it in such a manner that it broke down more naturally to the more static comic book format, rather than the flow of images that constitute a movie. But other than that, all the heavy lifting was done by Nick.
The scene when Motti is on stage in front of a live audience, performing Puck’s monologue from “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” had such development, such weight. Which scene in the book resonates most with you?
Thanks so much for saying so. It always fascinated me, growing up, how so many of the strong experiences of that era affected the various members of my family in such different ways — and that my father, being too young at the time to “participate” the way his older brothers did, took in the entire experience more as a viewer, as an audience, and developed a love of theater and performance as a result. The moment you describe is the moment that defines for me everything I was trying to put into the book, as well. The fusion of real and imagined experience, the joy of transformation and the horror of the reality that is just around the corner, are all focused into that one final moment. So it’s the key scene in the piece for me, as well. By the way, for the record — though much of the story is based on real stories and events, the GN is a highly fictionalized re-imagining of them.
In a medium dominated, or rather, over-saturated with capes and spandex, it’s refreshing to read something likeÂ “Jerusalem.” Rich, historical — it stays with you. Are these the types of stories you’d like to see more of, or do you think they work better when published sporadically?
Honestly, I am not all that sure of what kind of books are selling or not selling these days. I grew up on superhero comics, am a Jack Kirby fanatic, and will always cherish the genre — but I don’t read them much anymore, at least not the straight up superhero ones. Â Most of the stuff that I have been checking out and liking — “Scalped,” “Criminal,” “Dahmer,” “Habibi,” “Walking Dead,” etc. — aren’t capes and spandex, and seem to be prominently featured on the stands, so I hope they’re doing alright. Seems to me like there’s a place for all of them — at least I hope so.
Being a screenwriter and director, what techniques have you picked up from film that you employ in your comic scripts?
Well, to be truthful, other than a series of comics I wrote for my brother Erez to illustrate quite a long time ago, called “The Remarkable Worlds of Professor Phineas B. Fuddle,” the scripts that I have had turned into GN’s have started out as screenplays, which I have then had to make some minor adjustments to in order to better work in the illustrated format. There are subtle differences, but there are many more similarities, and when one is lucky enough to be working with strong artists the transition is not that difficult to make.
Is Jerusalem’s tale over? Did you say what you wanted to? Is there anything you want to add?
Jerusalem’s story started a long time before I entered this strange existence of ours, and will continue long after I am gone! And I am not sure what I wanted to say with it, either. I think I wanted to find moments that represented what it was like to be alive in that place, in that heated and turbulent moment in its history, so that I could touch it with my imagination, and perhaps convey some part of that to others, as well.
“Jerusalem” is on sale May 22 from First Second Books.