Jobnik! is Miriam Libicki’s comics diary of her life in Israel as a member of the Israeli Army in 2001. As an American, and as one who’s not a native speaker of Hebrew, Libicki finds herself in a jobnik, or little job. She’s aware of all the violence and tension in Israel and the occupied territories during her time in the military, but Miriam seldom sees anything close to combat.
It’s this tension, between Libicki’s dull job as a secretary and the turmoil in her adopted country, that gives Jobnik! so much of its power. So much of “Miri”‘s life is taken up with ordinary events – helping test a soldier for herpes, or fighting with another unit for office supplies – that it’s easy at times to forget that Miri is living in a country that was in the midst of an intense military conflict at the time.
Libicki does a nice job contrasting the quiet daily life of her younger self with the rather tense news of the day. Ordinary scenes of friendship are juxtaposed next to the complex news of the day. Suicide bombings are discussed on the same page as Joni Mitchell albums; a discussion of Libicki’s fun times around the Purim holiday is placed next to a discussion of the Hamas movement.
This all adds up to a tension that feels different from most autobiographical comics. There’s always a feeling of exotic strangeness about Libicki’s life in Israel, even when she’s simply visiting with a friend in town for dinner, or celebrating Purim.
Libicki does a wonderful job of bringing that era alive for readers. Her depiction of a small peace rally is intriguing for its strangely ordinary feeling – and Miri’s coincidental discovery of an old friend at the rally is almost funny in its randomness. The depiction of a local market is also really wonderful, and it’s clear that Libicki lavished much attention to a wonderful full-page illustration of the place.
But the book comes most alive in two places. Life in the Army is presented in a very interesting way. It’s hardly glamorous or exciting. Instead, life in Libicki’s unit seems incredibly dull. There are several scenes of the members of the unit just hanging out, smoking cigarettes and visiting with each other. The banal dullness of the unit is a wonderful contrast to the tension of the country as a whole.
It also comes alive in a wonderful scene at the end of the book, when Libicki calls her boyfriend in the US. It’s a cute scene, and really illuminates Libcki’s inner life. We get a feel for how she’s reacting to the events she’s living in Israel, and get a feeling for her hopes when she returns to America. Sure she mostly talks about the candy bars she misses, but there’s an undercurrent to Miri’s dialogue that implies a deeper sense of loss about being in Israel. The closing panel, a long view of Miri as she mutters “I wish I was there, too” gives the book a kind of wistful sadness as it fades out.
Libicki’s art is distinctive and interesting. She’s commented in other works about how the cartoon Miriam Libicki looks different from the real Miriam; she certainly looks quite different in person from how she looks in real life. But the cartoony portrayal of Miriam and her friends is effective for this book because it allows for the best sort of cartoonish exaggeration. Using a light art style, Libicki allows herself to exaggerate her characters’ feelings and emotions, giving the comic a more cartoonish sense of reality that works well as a comic. In another artform, the abstraction of her figures might not work as well; in comics, the abstraction works wonderfully.
In its depiction of the banality and charm of everyday life in Isreael, Miriam Libicki’s Jobnik presents a wonderfully unique world. I always find myself enjoying seeing life through her eyes.
For more on Jobnik, see Miriam Libicki’s website.