CCI: Spotlight on Rutu Modan

During the course of her spotlight panel at Comic-Con International, Modan spent an hour explaining her working techniques, showing the photos she uses for reference and inspiration, and told real-life stories that inspired many of her comics. At one point, she said "the lousiest moments in life are the best material" for her stories, which are noted for their naturalism in portraying the emotional lives of ordinary people in sometimes unusual circumstances. To illustrate the point, Modan showed pages from a story in which a terrorist suicide bomber kills several people, one of whom remains unidentified for some timeShe explained that the story was inspired by a news story she read, combined with the experience of wondering why a man she had been dating didn't call; after a while she began to worry that he might have died.

"Exit Wounds" is inspired by an actual event that occurred about seven years ago, in which a small airplane from Lebanon suddenly appeared unannounced in the skies over Israel. When the pilot failed to identify himself, the Israeli air force shot down the plane. From this event, Modan extrapolated the effect that it might have had on various people, creating as a main character an old man who clings to the hope that the pilot is his long-missing son, believed kidnapped in Lebanon some years earlier. There is no reason for him to believe this other than desire. At the same time, his son's wife's new boyfriend hopes with equal fervor that the pilot is not his girlfriend's husband. Later, when the pilot's fate is revealed, both men change their minds and take on the opposite beliefs. Modan says that the story illustrates the idea that "people don't let facts interfere with their belief."

For reference, Modan collects old photos that she finds in secondhand stores and antique shops, as well as frequently drawing on her own family photo albums and experiences for her work. One of her stories uses her grandmother as the model for a major character, mostly for her striking beauty, but also because she had an extensive collection of images, since her grandfather was an avid photographer who frequently used his wife as a subject. Modan explained that "a photo is freezing one moment," and as such, each one can be a novel in itself.

Another source of Modan's inspiration is research. She shared with the audience a variety of photos she had taken of locations and environments in which scenes from her stories take place, such as a forensics lab, a small convenience store, street scenes, and posed photos of friends and family portraying characters in action. One photo showed a memorial to a murder victim, assembled from various found items,including a Coca-Cola display.

A few years after her father passed away, Modan was surprised to discover a photo album full of pictures of him at a shop. Apparently it was one of his family albums that had somehow been overlooked and accidentally discarded when the family had sorted through his things. When she explained the circumstances to the shop owner and asked how much the photo album would cost, Modan was shocked when the man told her it was $300. She pointed out to him that his other albums were only $5, and he replied, "this one is special." The man's callous selfishness was so appalling that she ended up using him as a particularly nasty character in one of her comics.

Such personal experiences are often a source of inspiration. Two years ago, the artist was invited to an event in Sweden, her first personal appearance as a special guest. She excitedly told her friends about it, and happily flew to her destination, only to discover that the exhibit and her speech were to be presented in the apartment of a woman who was a fan. Samples of her work were hung on the walls, and the woman who invited her was the only person present; she had not advertised or announced the supposed "event" to anyone, it was just this one person as sole audience-member. Later, when she returned home with bruised ego, feeling insulted and frustrated, she told her friends what had happened. They found it hilarious, so she decided to do a comic based on the incident to see if it really was funny. In the comic, an aspiring rocker is hired to perform in Sheffield, only to discover that the event at which he will play is a boy's Bar Mitzvah that his one and only fan is coordinating. In writing the comic, Modan realized that although the situation was embarrassing, the person in question really was a fan, and possibly the only one, and was sincere in her wish to see the artist. . Modan says that she uses such events in her stories in order to "help me understand reality."

Talking about the portrayal of women in her stories, Modan illustrated her point by showing two images from DC Comics, and explaining that she felt no identification with either of them. After showing an image of the very ordinary-looking woman who is a major character in one of her stories, she said that in contrast to the variety of women in the real world, comics generally only portray two types; first was an image of Power Girl, and the second a helpless Lois Lane in peril waiting for Superman to rescue her. Modan said she did not at all identify with either of these types and noted that men in the real world are far more accepting of a wider variety of women than the narrow range typically shown in comics.

Modan did not grow up reading comics, as there are only three comics shops in all of Israel and comics are not an integral part of their culture; Superman and Tintin were both commercial failures there, and there are no Israeli comic book publishers. "I was always drawing, always making up stories...I was making comics before I was reading them," she said.

When asked about her use of political issues in her comics, Modan explained that she doesn't write about politics, she writes about people. "I don't put opinion in my comics. Opinions are boring. My stories have a point of view, but point of view is different from opinion. Having someone tell you how to raise your children is irritating, but having someone tell you how they raised their children - that's interesting."

Rutu Modan's work is published by Drawn & Quarterly. She doesn't have a website of her own; despite having registered a domain name a few years ago, she hasn't yet put up a site. "It's much more interesting to draw comics than to make a website."

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