By Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Scott
There’s a rule at Mike’s Place: never, ever talk politics or religion. At this blues bar on the Tel Aviv beachfront, an international cast of characters mingles with the locals, and everyone is welcome to grab a beer and forget the conflict outside. At least, that’s the story Jack and Joshua want to tell in their documentary.
But less than a month after they begin filming, Mike’s Place is the target of a deadly suicide bombing. Jack, Joshua, and the Mike’s Place family survive the only way they know how-by keeping the camera rolling.
Written by filmmakers Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem and illustrated by award-winning cartoonist Koren Shadmi, Mike’s Place chronicles the true story of an infamous terrorist attack in painstaking detail. Rarely has the slow build to tragedy, and the rebirth that follows, been captured with such a compassionate and unflinching eye.
The political landscape of Israel is and was often a harsh and unforgiving road, with terror a palpital feeling on both sides of the street; the air is thick with tension and amidst the peace talks of 2003 and 2004 lies a tale well worth the cost of admission. In the middle of this chaotic time sits Mike’s Place, an excellent, graphic biographical history of a momentous period.
As the graphic novel’s Epilogue states, “This was the first time in the middle east conflict that foreign nationals carried out a suicide bombing inside Israel. In 2004 HAMAS claimed responsibility when they released the martyrdom video.” This is the scenario that Mike’s Place takes place in. The characterization shows how life unfolds during difficult times and people’s coping strategies to events beyond their control.
The story centers about a live music club, appropriately called “Mike’s Place,” (which also happened to be the name of my local University’s graduate bar – what are the odds?) in which politics and religion are left at the door, with live music and people just having a good time – the “real” Israel as the graphic novel puts it. The characterization makes each individual immediately unique and you know who is who in any given panel. The art even shows signs of being aware of it being a documentary depiction of a documentary, showing the “off-camera” point of view beautifully. The voices are natural and the story easily accessible.
The writing is well executed, opening up doorways to a single characters thoughts and an omniscient point of view otherwise. It imposed, at least to me, the feeling of a “documentary of a documentary.” It is brisk, and full of local Tel Aviv dialect and slang (though always translated tastefully). I really enjoyed being pulled into the story, and in letting the characters build their history as the “documentary” unfolds, the lead protagonist’s voice carries the flow of the book naturally and fluidly. The lettering is clear and unique, and is transparent once you start the graphic novel.
The art, I have to admit, is incredibly well done, most likely using photo reference, to convey a tangible feeling of immersion in any of the environments, from Tel Aviv, to the Gaza Strip Crossing, to Mike’s (with its large Guinness sign). The inked “camera’s eye” is well played with often striking angles and gossamer movement from page to page. The characters are drawn with an open, simple style that keeps their identities straight, throughout the story, wherever they appear. Photographs often introduce each chapter, and the quotes from the Quran that accompany them are apt and appropriate. The entire work stands out on its own as a graphic work, independent of the story.
For those who enjoyed Joe Sacco’s Palestine, or documentary enthusiasts who want something different in their collection, or lovers of a good true life story, Then Mike’s Place might be worth hanging out in for a while. It will definitely introduce you to the “real” Israel of 2003. It’s a change, for sure.
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for providing a copy for review*