I was sad to learn that Asaf Hanuka’s The Realist: The Last Day on Earth would live up to its appellation. The artist’s first English collection since 2017’s Plug and Play, his comic using his own experiences as a husband and father as a springboard for commentary on life and culture remains as poignant as ever, with exquisite artwork helping make its universal feelings of melancholy relatable. This third and final volume of The Realist (originally titled K.O. À TEL AVIV and translated from Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan) doesn’t so much end the series as it begs us for privacy.
As with the other Realist collections there’s no traditional narrative – or any narrative, really – linking these panels together, other than the family behind their inspiration. The artist himself remains the centerpiece of our attention, full (as ever) with the trials and tribulations that come with navigating a world of potential dangers and insecurities. And the anxieties, of course, which Hanuka renders often as miniature versions of himself literally escaping from his own head.
Most of the comics cycle through an array of non sequiturs touching on everything from public transportation, tech distractions, reminiscing about Star Wars (The Empire Strikes Back and accepting reality as it is), mistaken identities, abandoning vegetarianism (“morality is a bland and boring dish”), and the rationalizations we make for those we love. There’s a larger emphasis on paneled storytelling this time around, vignettes told as much through dialogue than artwork alone.
All of which, once again, are brought to life by Hanuka’s nearly peerless gifts as an illustrator, which looks like the results if the styles of Will Eisner with Bill Watterson were merged into something new. His illustrations never fail to find sincere and interesting ways of presenting his dualistic observations in the same frame, as if symbolism and metaphor joined together, like when positioning himself the superhero of his own life or imagining the child that never was (but might have been).
It’s also a collection that leans heavier into Israeli politics than ever before, especially Zionism and questioning his country’s role on the world stage. And the Covid-19 pandemic, of course.
But Israel travels within him, as evidenced by a visit to Berlin with his wife (after agreeing to “put the Holocaust aside”). The couple come across countless reminders of events that would stain the city’s reputation, inescapable as the guilt many Israelis face when struggling between “moving on” and forgiveness, the specter of Anne Frank haunting Hanuka’s midnight thoughts as if reminding him to “never forget”. As if he could.
More than anything, Hanuka obsesses on growing older, an inevitability for anyone who manages to keep living. The middle-aged dread (and spread) can’t be avoided an longer, forcing him to reexamine his relationship with his wife and not wanting his children to inherit his paralyzing insecurities.
The Realist: The Last Day on Earth concludes Asaf Hanuka’s surrealistic series on a high note, a final bow and salutation for one of the most creatively interesting comics in recent times. If the scope of his comics seem smaller this time around it could be the artist himself winding down, ready for the next challenge but eager to leave his own story for now. At least there’s a bonus story with Israeli author (and frequent Hanuka collaborator) Etgar Keret to keep hope alive. “Alleys of Fury” suggests that while The Realist may be over, Asaf Hanuka the artist isn’t quite done yet.