The title of artist and writer Miriam Libicki‘s comic series
Jobnik!: An American Girl’s Adventures in the Israeli Army
made me wary at first. The first thing you think of when someone name-drops the Israeli army is, it’s going to be fiercely political and partisan. And when you think about political comics, you can be forgiven if the image your mind conjures up is pro-Palestinian protesters or boring Israeli propaganda.
Jobnik! is decidedly more personal. After an intensely candid prologue in which Miriam is diagnosed by a military psychologist — “Overly emotional, disconnected from reality, possessed of anxieties (especially social), unable to form interpersonal bonds, sexually conflictedâ€¦sure you haven’t considered suicide a little bit?” — she’s introduced to her new Hebrew-speaking coworkers and her new job: secretary to an overdemanding, office-supplies-stealing sergeant.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Israel that Miriam (the author) portrays and that Miriam (the character) stumbles through in this “sometimes autobiographical” series is a multi-layered one filled with sex and sexism, adventures and concerts and lonely soliloquies, all punctuated by lots and lots of bus rides. The Miriam of the story is a character in flux: torn between being religious and being secular, the social pressure to date and the desire to play the field — coupled with, of course, the fact of being on an army base in the middle of nowhere with a whole platoon of sexed-up twentysomethings in peak physical condition.
Libicki’s portrayal of the Israeli army includes a lot of what, in our American Western minds, we’d think of as matter-of-fact sexism. Her officers flirt with her. She embarks into hook-ups with other soldiers, relationships that aren’t relationships, dangerous flirtations, bizarre social schemes. Some scenes totally confound our sensibilities, like where the female soldiers discuss whether different uniforms make a character’s thighs look big. It’s a different world they’re living in.