You once said the famed 1964 Clint Eastwood movie, A Fistful of Dollars, shaped your early style.
As soon as I watched that film, I went upstairs and started to draw in a different way. It was the close-ups and the ugliness. The faces are real, a little grotesque, which is something you find in Bruegel, too. I remember a face on one side and a lot of empty space on the other. That sort of stuff sticks with you when you’re a certain age.
Among the many Israeli critiques of your work I’ve read, I was particularly compelled by one: that all the Israeli soldiers are caricatures—big, blocky, and threatening. In general, the soldiers are less defined than the victims. Why?
I don’t think it’s conscious. With the soldiers, I always try to draw some who are a little ambivalent about what they’re doing and others who have worked themselves into a frenzy. I’m not trying to put myself into the role of an Israeli; I’m trying to put myself in the role of someone who’s brutalizing someone else: what goes through your mind, how you get yourself to hit or kick someone. I’ve felt that way, and I’m more likely to feel violent with someone who is cowering. It sort of infuriates me.
The only living Israeli you quoted at any length is Mordechai Bar-On, the right-hand man of renowned Israeli military leader Moshe Dayan. Did you search for other Israelis alive at the time?
If I had more time and more resources, I probably would have tracked down more people, knowing full well that the chance of someone saying something would be pretty minimal. I hired some Israeli researchers to go through the archives. One found things that helped me out. But at some point I realized this is like any history: it’s never really complete. What I would prefer is an Israeli historian following up on this with his or her point of view.
Which journalists do you think are most credibly covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today?
For reporting, Amira Hass. For commentary, Gideon Levy. Both write for Haaretz. Hass knows the foibles of the Palestinians, and she talks about them. Her reporting is consistently good.
You were born in Malta, spent your early years in Australia, and have lived in Berlin and New York. Why settle in Portland?
My dad got a job in Portland when I was 14. I went to Sunset High School. Those are always formative years, college and high school. Portland, in the last 10 years, quit chasing Seattle and just became Portland. There are things to do, but you can also be in your own space. As great as New York is, there is always someone coming through that you’re going to see, and you’re always a little hungover. You can’t really walk down the street and be lost in your thoughts like you can here.