Rutu has always drawn pictures but she used them to illustrate a story, many times one that was happening around her. Today she prefers fiction but there’s always a bit of reality in her work as well.
There were very few comics when she was growing up save for a rare comic or two, and one book of Tintin. And comics, especially alternative comics, were unheard of in her native Israel. After compulsory military service where she stopped drawing, she discovered the works of Edward Gorey, graduated cum laude from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem and immediately contributed comics to Israel’s leading newspapers.
She’ll tell you that leap wasn’t hard at all, since editors had never seen comics before they were game to give it a go. She just went to the editor, told him her idea for a comic strip and began to work. When she ran out of ideas she’d simply change the subject matter and continue on, it was fun and she was getting paid for it. She says “Sometimes it’s an advantage when there’s no tradition.”
She was also an editor for the Hebrew version of Mad magazine thanks to her Uncle being the publisher. She and her good friend Yimi Pinkus were responsible for 25% of the content—75% was furnished from the States. They were more interested in doing their alternative comics a la Raw magazine, but the people who liked Mad hated their work and those who appreciated their alternative style hated the Mad material—they were done after ten issues. What came out of that experience was the self-publishing collective, Actus Tragicus. After going to Angoulême with their first set of mini-comics the collective began producing one book a year.
In 1996, Rutu collaborated with Israeli author Etgar Keret on her first graphic novel, Nobody Said it Was Going to Be Fun which went on to become an Israeli bestseller. In 1997 she received the Young Artist of the Year award, in 1998 the Best Illustrated Children's Book award from the Youth Department of the Israel Museum.
She contributes to magazines and periodicals all over the world—her comics and illustrations have been featured in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Le Monde to name a few. She has had two comics serialized in the the New York Times, published three books with Drawn & Quarterly as well as a children’s book for Toon Books.
Grace Bello, Publisher’s Weekly, says this, “Modan’s voice stands out, not only because there aren’t many Israeli comics artists—or many female comics artists—but also because she deals with complex issues of self, family, and culture.” What’s intriguing about Modan’s work is her ability to translate specific experiences into stories that feel universal. And Françoise Mouly, art director of the New Yorker and founder of kid’s comics publisher Toon Books adds “You get a sense of the ambivalence of a contemporary person in Israel.... She’s an Israeli artist accepting conflicting feelings that have more questions than answers. She uses ligne claire—the clear line—to deal with storylines that are murky and ambiguous, which lends power to her work.”
In addition to her projects, she drives from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem once a week to teach comics and illustration at her alma mater. She’s been teaching for the past twenty-three years, starting two years after graduation, and she loves it. As she puts it after receiving notice as our Illustrator/Educator of the Year, “I especially like the fact I can finally talk about my experience as a teacher—it’s rare that I’m being asked about it and it is such a big part of my professional life”.
We are pleased to name Rutu Modan our 2017 Illustrator/Educator of the Year. You’ll be able to find out more about Rutu in our upcoming annual.
Photo by Ephrat Beloosesky