Rutu Modan deserves all the hype she’s getting, though the work itself (I’m talking specifically about “The Property” here, but this applies to her previous book, “Exit Wounds,” as well) is more low-key and subtle than the bombastic reviews might lead you to believe. She doesn’t feel like she’s reaching for any kind of Major Literary Genius Awards — which is good. She even points one of her jabs in that direction, with a character who wants to create “the Persepolis of the Warsaw Uprising.” She’s just telling a story, well.
The first thing you’ll notice, even if you’re not much of a comics fan, is the Tintin-ishness of her line and her layouts. It’s undeniable. The biggest key to Modan’s success as a cartoonist, for me, though, is not the clearness of the line, the beauty of the drawings, nor the economy of the layouts (and they are clear and beautiful and spare), but the “acting” of the characters. Each character is so distinct and realistically rendered — their reactions to one another, their reactions to their own thoughts — that you forget they are drawn so simply. Most comics, even most good ones, rely on the short-hand of cartoon conventions (sweat beads, lines radiating from faces, etc), stock poses, and expositional words (in dialogue, caption, or thought balloons) to get across the kind of subtle emotional message that Modan’s characters can express with a glance or a shrug.¬†You “read” their movements and thoughts the way you do those of real people. At least, I did.