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Asaf Hanuka

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Page 45 Review by Stephen

"Oh no!"
"What is it?"
"Change the channel to Israel."

I've been desperate for an English-language print edition of this for years.

I do mean desperate. Your eyes are in for a feast and your mind is going to be walking more than that metaphorical mile in Asaf Hanuka's shoes as he lets you climb into his skin, gives you a great deal to ponder and so expands your compassion and understanding.

Imagine, if you can, how scary it must be to receive a phone call from your landlord, out of the blue, to tell you that she or he is selling the house so you've got three months to leave. If you don't find somewhere else to live, you'll be out on the street.

Now imagine you have a husband or wife and a child...

That's how this kicks off in the first three panels, the abrupt and unexpected chaos that was ten seconds ago a safe routine spilling into Asaf's life as the bottle of ink spills onto his drawing and into the face of its cheerfully waving man.

The second tier portrays the pressure perfectly as Asaf envelopes his wife with a hug while their young son cheerfully building a tower of blocks is startled by its collapse then bursts into tears: the pressure of providing not just security but also optimism when your own hope has just evaporated and so left you empty.

In the final three panels the colour and light has been drained from the day, husband Hanuka lying awake in bed while his wife and child sleep; awake for hours as the bed recedes from us into the middle of a road; then further still, left suspended in space, in a void. It's your quintessential fear of a future unknown.

I can relate: my most often recurring nightmare has been Page 45 being evicted from 9 Market Street in Nottingham and being forced to move to an attic in Coventry, a cathedral where the pews were our shelves or to the northwest coast where we had no customers whatsoever. Sometimes I couldn't even find the shop.

That's just the first of dozens and dozens of impeccably composed pages where the level of thought which has gone into every detail from the tier structure and the movement across the page to the colouring which is never for its own sake but always for eye-drawing or emotional impact.

This was originally commissioned by a financial newspaper as a weekly autobiographical comic following the Hanukas' desperate search for a suitable apartment in a difficult market. There's a fabulous page split in two, as an agent with a wide and thoroughly fake grin stands back while wife and child survey the dilapidated room anxiously, side-on, and Asaf, central and to the fore, imagines how it might look with a great deal of work in a mirrored second panel below. Again, the colouring says it all.

The book soon branches out into wider worries or whatever else is preying on Hanuka's mind. He recently declared that this is how he best deals with his concerns: in nine-panel grids or full-page flourishes, finding the most effective visual ways for conveying his exact mental and emotional states both for the entertainment of readers and his own benefit. Once it's there in front of him he can process these thoughts more constructively.

As well as being an impeccable draughtsman, the creator's a superb lateral thinker: you can expect thrilling variety and plenty of the fantastical to keep you amused right through the book.

I loved 'Eye Exam' in which a young Asaf plays at being Bruce Lee, a soccer star-striker and John Travolta at the disco. Then he takes that eye test to see if he needs his vision adjusting:

L
IFE
ISNT WAT
YOU THOUGHT

There's so much here I can relate to: having bad news preoccupy so much that it's topmost in your mind, whatever you do, whoever you're with, effectively cutting you off from them.

'Brave heart' is brilliant: when you drop your kid off at play group and he begs you "Don't go!" yet you leave him there anyway then burst into tears in private. One presumes initially that it's the boy who needs to be brave, but it's the parent.

In 'Warrior's Rest' so much is conveyed by an open door, the light shining through it and over his sleeping son, the dad's silhouette partially cast on the wall to one side and the toy spaceman from earlier caught in the middle of the floor between two Transformers and his spaceship.

The elaborate strategy and competitiveness of Facebook is simply hilarious, but this is Israel and there are also security checkpoints, Asaf imagining himself being interrogated, and the white lies you tell your child to protect them from the truth, from the world. In some the couple quarrel and in 'Less Is More' Hanuka puts on a brave face... with a felt tip pen.

Others are more enigmatic, open to interpretation and I don't have all the answers but I do love the questions.

I leave you with one page on which Asaf deliberately deprives you of the answer after struggling with a strip, deadline four hours and counting. His wife offers some sage advice:

"The idea isn't that important. Just make sure there's a funny ending that people understand, not just you."
"Okay,,, yes... interesting... that could work..."

The final panel shows him scribbling in his notebook.

"Haha... brilliant... brilliant!"

You'll never know.

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