Article originally written by Steve Ponzo
When do you let someone into your life and when do you let someone go? These are the questions at the heart of Exit Wounds, Rutu Modan’s 2008 Eisner Award winner for Best Graphic Novel. This simplistic and beautiful masterwork tells the tale of Koby Franco, a young taxi driver living in Tel Aviv, whose life is forever changed with a single phone call. On the other line is Numi, a female soldier who informs him that his estranged father Gabriel may have been the victim of a suicide bombing. As Koby investigate his father’s death, he slowly begins to unravel the mystery of his own life as well.
It may seem like this is just another mystery filled with intrigue, but this is the story with a perfect balance of plot and characterization. Rich with emotion, this is a tale of the relationships forged between two strangers brought together by a single tragedy.
Exit Wounds is the North American graphic novel debut from Israeli artist Rutu Modan. She is a four-time recipient of Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award in Israel as well as the Young Artist of the Year Award. Modan’s strengths as a storyteller are ever apparent in the way she conveys her story visually rather than through the writing.
Modan’s art is what truly brings her characters to life. Rich with subtle detail and nuance, she is able to create realistic emotions with simple lines, flat colors and a cartoon- like approach to facial expressions. Her minimal line work is still able to create realistic gestures that drive this story forward. The emotions Koby and Numi feel are right there on the page for us to see, be it the slump of a back or a hand in a pocket.
The colors, although flat are still lush and expressive. Ranging from finely detailed backgrounds and rich intricate patterns to single color washes, Modan truly knows how and when to pull and push our eye. The cluttered backgrounds are there to create a sense of environment and to emphasize the tension felt by Koby and Numi. Yet, it’s the flat, monochromatic backgrounds that show Modan’s true understanding of characterization. Free of detail, the stark color pushes the character to the foreground, allowing for us to focus on every nuance of their expression. The single color draws us out from the tension of the detailed environments and replaces it with the loneliness felt by the characters.
Rutu Modan has created a story that, at its heart, is about reconciling with one’s past and the ability to look to the future. Just like the book’s namesake, Exit Wounds is what happens when an act of violence enters one’s life and leaves through the other side.