Waltz With Bashir (subtitled "A Lebanon War Story") by Ari Folman and David Polonsky is a graphic novel adaptation of the animated film of the same name. I have not seen the film yet (although I fully intend to – the trailer looks quite intense). Ari Folman, wrote, produced, and directed the animated documentary and wrote this graphic novel version as well. David Polonsky was the art director and chief illustrator for the movie from which the art in the comic comes from (it’s not entirely clear whether the images in the book are altered in any way from their appearance in the movie). It is Folman’s own story and it appears it is a pretty faithful attempt to chronicle his attempts to fill in his memories of his own military service in the Israel-Lebanan war.
The plot is fairly straightforward – in the story, Ari Folman is a 19-year-old infantry soldier in the israeli army during the 1982 war with Lebanon. In 2006, a friend from his army experience tells him about his nightmares about the war and Folman realizes that he does not remember the war. In pursuit of reconstructing his memories of this period, Folman talks to others who were in the conflict and slowly pieces together his memories. But because this is as much a novel about memory as it is about that war (and in particular, the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refuge camps) it has a Memento-like feel in its structure and the tension is in the accumulating revelations of memory that collectively reveal itself.
The art is pretty powerful, combining drawings with more realistic background imagery — in many ways it reminds me of Dan Goldman’s work on Shooting War. There is a nice video interview with Folman at this nytimes.com article in which he explains both the process and the goals of creating the art for the movie. The art is pretty breath-taking and is able to convey a sort of fuzzy reality which helps to impart the dream-like, in-search-of-memory nature of the story. I was a little nervous on principle in reading the book – I have been fairly disappointed in previous graphic novel adaptations of films (animated or otherwise) — repurposing the art from a movie often feels oddly static and disconnected in a graphic novel (and I have had that sense both when reading the book before or after seeing the movie). I think the direct involvement of the creators of the film in this graphic novel is probably key here to the more organic feel and overall success of this book. It definitely works as a graphic novel on its own terms.
The story itself is a cousin to groundbreaking work such as Palestine by creator Joe Sacco and Notes For a War Story by Gipi. You can read sample pages from the book at the publisher’s website. It’s a moving tale that while highly personal can’t help but suggest more political themes. It actually is much more effective that the book is largely not very explicit in providing any judgment about the actors in the events chronicled. Even the only non-animated part of the book, documentary photos of the victims of the massacres at the refugee camps, does not explicitly demand anything of the reader other than acknowledgment of the existence of the tragedy and its victims. But, of course, any reader can’t help but be moved by the story and tragic history (and present) of all the people of and within Lebanon, Israel, and surrounding states.
Note: The publisher provided a free copy to ComixTalk for review purposes.