The Old City of Jerusalem is crowded. In a relatively small space surrounded by walls there are three major religions, their sects and subsets. There is tourism and noise, garbage and sacred things, ideology, conflict and competing ideas. And, in early March of 2007, there was also me, standing in a narrow street with a notebook thinking to myself: “How the hell am I going to write about all of this?”
The idea was simple: go on a Birthright-Israel tour with all my strong political opinions -— but with an attempt to keep an open mind -— and then create a comic book about all the confusing and interesting experiences I would inevitably have while there. The trip was definitely confusing and interesting, but what I had not anticipated was how difficult it would be to turn all of that into a comic.
When I started the book as self-published minicomics, I had the impulse to write about EVERYTHING. When Vertigo picked up the project as a graphic novel, I had to rethink. If I’d had it my way, the book would have been over 300 pages! That’s why a good editor was essential as I went through the process of sifting all the noise of the Middle East into a streamlined script.
One by one I forced myself to cut beloved scenes that didn’t move the story along. The morning when it snowed in Jerusalem and it felt like the apocalypse was coming? Cut. The time when we visited the Wailing Wall and a pigeon pooped on my friend Melissa’s head at the instant that she put her prayer into the ancient stone? Cut.
In the end, slicing those moments away from the narrative only made the moments at the core of the story stronger. As a result, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is not just an account of a trip I took, it’s the story of someone who finds herself battling with confusion in a strange land as well as conflict within her own mind, and must find a path out. I've worked hard to clear a pathway through all the confusion and hopefully, as a reader, you can follow me through it.
--- Sarah Glidden