Never Forget, Never Forgive

Posted by on September 15th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

 

Never Forget, Never Forgive
Rami Efal
Self-Published via Lulu.com, $19.95
182 pp.; B&W
ISBN: 9780578052274

“Whom will one forgive if not one’s enemies?”

— Rami Efal

The Israeli cartoonist Rami Efal was recently nominated for the Ignatz Award for “Promising New Talent” for his self-published graphic novel, Never Forget, Never Forgive, which was originally serialized as a webcomic on Activatecomix.com. The book is a historical fiction set in feudal Japan and chronicles the “Great Onin War for the throne of Kyoto,” a struggle between the Okumura and Miyamoto tribes, two embittered clans locked in combat for decades. Within this context, Efal explores the impact of war and its lingering after-effects on one family.

There are two things that stood out about this book. First, and most importantly, is the way the story acts as a metaphor for war in general, and World War II in particular.

Having done extensive reading on the Holocaust, Efal’s graphic novel brought two books in particular to mind. The first is Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s controversial Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which makes a very strong case that we must never simply dismiss the Holocaust as solely the fault of the Hitler regime and a corrupt military that created a state of paranoia in Nazi Germany. To do so, Goldhagen argues, unfairly exonerates the thousands of murderers, criminals, bureaucrats and racist citizens of their hand in the massacre. Rather, Goldhagen argues that a significant portion of the population of Germany and the other Nazi-controlled countries during that period were deeply and aggressively anti-Semitic, and more damning, that in order for the genocide to have occurred on such a massive scale, thousands of “willing executioners” had to participate of their own free will in the round-ups, processing, internment, slaughter and disposal of the millions of victims. In other words, this was an entire society dedicated to genocide, not just a government.

The other book which Efal’s graphic novel brought to mind is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was an Austrian psychoanalyst who was imprisoned in Auschwitz, and his book, primarily his account of his own experiences as a prisoner, was published just a year after his liberation. Despite the horrors it depicts, however, Frankl’s book is a profoundly beautiful, uplifting work of literature, largely because he so clearly makes the case for the innate good in humanity. Frankl argues that every person has the potential for both good and evil, and that it is each individual’s responsibility to actualize the good by discovering a worthwhile meaning to define their lives. More importantly, even if one is robbed of his freedom to pursue this meaning, as so many were in the concentration camps, Frankl argues that one still has the right, and indeed the obligation, to choose the attitude they take toward their suffering. He cites dozens of examples of men and women who had lost everything (including their closest family members), yet still found small ways to help their fellow prisoners, even at their own expense.

 


(Click image to see larger version.) From Never Forget, Never Forgive, ©2010 Rami Efal.

 

Returning to the graphic novel, Efal tells us on the back cover that the book’s title, “Never Forget, Never Forgive,” was a mantra he heard repeatedly by his parents, who are Holocaust survivors, while growing up in Israel. This attitude is reflective of Goldhagen’s perspective and, not surprisingly, is a viewpoint shared by many Jewish citizens in Israel, particularly those who were survivors themselves, or children raised by survivors. These men and women are, sadly, a generation poisoned by the war’s after-effects, unwilling to “forgive” the perpetrators of the atrocity, and unable to “forget” the memory of their extensive loss.

This attitude has also come to dominate current Israeli politics, permeating all aspects of the nation’s foreign and domestic policy. In a philosophical sense, Israel’s role in the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict (itself an after-effect of the Holocaust since the land was given to displaced European Jews as an attempt at reparations) reflects this “never forget, never forgive” attitude. Many in Israel are unwilling to let go of the anger and victim mentality, and as such, their responses to threats, perceived or real, are often militarized and extreme.

However, an increasingly vocal younger generation is starting to question this philosophy. Does it make sense to continue to cling to the embittered feeling over atrocities that are six decades old? Is the sustained anger doing more harm than good? Is Israel doing all it can to ensure peace in the Middle East? These are the questions that many in Efal’s generation are grappling with today. In interviews, Efal makes no secret of his conviction that Israelis must break out of this cycle of anger that he witnessed growing up. In a conversation with Chris Arrant at Newsarama, he said that “the core of the book is how do we go beyond this mentality of ‘Never Forget, Never Forgive.'”

Yet, the real question is how well does Efal’s graphic novel deal with these complex social issues?

In this sense, the book is a rousing success! Efal’s story never trivializes or preaches its point, and therein lies the book’s greatest strength. Rather, its message is conveyed with great subtlety and care, and the characters’ lessons are absorbed silently, even while the message is loud and clear. Oda, the central character, represents Efal’s parents or their generational peers who believe, like Goldhagen, that they must never forgive their enemy, and are unable to let go of their own hatred and anger. Rather, he is fueled by a righteous desire for vengeance against those who killed his wife, leaving him to raise his two children alone. However, like Efal, Oda’s children bristle at their father’s blind rage and recognize that he is guilty of perpetuating the cycle of pain and suffering.

This is clearly a very personal work for Efal (the book was created while the artist spent two years in residence at a New York City Zen Center) and his message is compelling. Through the lens of feudal Japan, the artist attempts to reconcile Goldhagen’s and Frankl’s conflicting messages by acknowledging that man-made horrors exist, and will continue to exist, but that each of us still holds the ability to choose not to let these horrors define us. In short, we can never forget, but we must forgive our enemies or the hatred and anger will consume us. In the interview with Arrant, Efal eloquently described his Zen-like philosophy: “If I perpetuate anger, violence, and confusion within me, then I perpetuate anger, violence and confusion in the universe, period. I am interested in leaping out of this cycle. How do I do that? This is what the book is about.”

 


From Never Forget, Never Forgive, ©2010 Rami Efal.

 

The other thing that makes Never Forget, Never Forgive stand out is not even contained in the printed book, but rather can only be found online, at activatecomix.com, where Efal compiled an extensive “behind the scenes” documentary web-comic about his creative process. This bonus feature is essential to fully appreciate the level of care and craftsmanship the artist applied to the project. It’s also a fascinating insider’s look into the process of creating and self-publishing a graphic novel. Efal goes far beyond the typical character sketches and layout-pencil-ink comparisons we see appended to most graphic novels. Instead, the artist bares all, taking readers on a guided tour of every aspect of his creative effort, from concept to finished art to digital enhancement. It’s a fascinating, warts-and-all glimpse behind the curtain. It’s a shame this material was not included in the printed book since many will miss out on it, but I respect the artist’s decision to keep the two separate so as to not convolute the message of the story.

For the most part, Efal’s drawings are visually stunning and dynamic, shifting camera angles and perspectives confidently and demonstrating a keen sense of composition, cinematography and lighting. The story primarily adheres to a rigid eight-panel grid (inspired by David Lapham’s Stray Bullets); however, on several occasions, Efal takes the narrative equivalent of a deep, cleansing breath as he breaks from this structure to illustrate, in sweeping brushstrokes, an animal or a quiet nature scene.

Despite some limited professional work on Styx Taxi and a few other short anthology pieces, Never Forget, Never Forgive is still a rookie effort, and as such, there were a few missteps, although they are minor in the overall scheme of things. For example, the narrative relies heavily on silent storytelling, mirroring the tranquil mood of its historical setting. Thus, the images carry the majority of the storytelling burden and the drawings needed to be clear to maintain the story’s flow. While Efal mostly excels in this respect, there were a few cases where individual panels were overly rendered or visually confusing, making the book feel like a slog to get through in a few passages. Efal also made heavy use of manga effects, especially speed lines and Zipatone-style shading (inspired by the look and texture of Lone Wolf and Cub). These techniques added depth and contour to the scenes, but were occasionally over-employed, muddying the panel’s subjects.

Still, these are minor quibbles. Overall, Never Forget, Never Forgive is one of the most impressive, thoughtful debut graphic novels I’ve read in a long time.

 

Further Reading

Never Forget, Never Forgive homepage
Webcomic version of Never Forget, Never Forgive at Act-i-Vate.com
Efal’s “Making of Never Forget, Never Forgive” at Activatecomix.com
Chris Arrant’s interview with Efal at Newsarama
Paul Golin’s review at the Jewish Outreach Institute
Christopher Irving’s review at NYCGraphicNovelists.com

 

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.