Very few books leave me thinking about them days after I’ve read them. Admittedly, even fewer comics have accomplished this. I can’t say the same for PIZZERIA KAMIKAZE, which continues to pop into my mind with new interpretations and revelations.

The Weirdest Road Trip You’ll Ever See

PIZZERIA KAMIKAZE is an illustrated adaptation of Israeli writer Etgar Keret’s short story KNELLER’S HAPPY CAMPERS. It centers upon recently-deceased Mordy, who finds that the afterlife is even more drab than the living world. This place is populated entirely by people who committed suicide, including Mordy himself. He begins a road trip to find his girlfriend, Desireé, bringing along his obnoxious roommate, Uzi, and a hopeful hitchhiker named Leehee.

While Keret’s story of love and death has existed in graphic novel form for a while, this is the first time we’ve seen it in full color. Dan Jackson’s simple yet effective color work emphasizes the melancholy, dreamlike illustrations by Asaf Hanuka. Together, they create a charming, sad, and hopeful graphic novel.

Pizzeria Kamikaze
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Between Heaven and Hell is a Pizzeria

If the premise sounds familiar, you may have seen WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY (2006), an American film adaptation of Keret’s original story. Something about a single story having three wildly different titles across three different mediums is really impressive.

PIZZERIA KAMIKAZE is a story about finding meaning and love in a confusing and dreary place. The afterlife has so few differences between it and the real world that the story could really take place almost anywhere. There are a few differences, though. Dead people walk around in the bodies they had when they died. Uzi, for example, has a perpetual hole in his head from when he shot himself. As morbid as this sounds, I wish that more characters had these “identifiers,” if you will. Most of them are just normal-looking people. I suppose an over-saturation of borderline zombie-like characters would distract from the story. However, it could also have added to the dark humor.

Pizzeria Kamikaze
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

About as Indie as You Can Get

The story is told from Mordy’s point of a view. As a normal guy from Israel, Mordy’s narration is not poetic or flowery. It just gives us a glimpse of an average person’s thoughts. This applies to the dialogue as well. Characters talk casually, although there are a few moments of oddity. Still, when a character speaks, they give off that mumbling, indie-film actor kind of vibe. There are no grand speeches about the precious nature of life or the secret to finding happiness. When a character struggles to say something, you see that struggle, but you also understand what they’re getting at, just like in real life. That might not be the most Pulitzer Prize-worthy way of describing the dialogue. However, I commend Keret for writing in a way that’s realistic without being overly casual.

Pizzeria Kamikaze
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

The story itself is great. While it’s written as a black comedy of sorts, I rarely found myself laughing. I looked at it more of a “slice of life” kind of story. It has a main character that I immediately attached to, and I wanted to see him succeed. Throughout the book, he goes through ups and downs, and you feel those emotions. It didn’t bring me to tears or anything, but it took me for a ride that I haven’t gotten from a comic in a long time.

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Sad, but Not Drab

The afterlife is bizarre because of how similar it is to real life. And the half-cartoony, half-realistic depictions of the characters and backgrounds help sell this idea. Everything is normal, except it isn’t. Asaf Hanuka’s characters are incredibly expressive without resorting to over-exaggerated, goofy faces. These moments occasionally come up, but they never betray the overall style of the book. Complex emotions, such as longing, emptiness, and discomfort, are drawn so perfectly that you can’t help but feel empathetic to these characters.

Pizzeria Kamikaze
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

I’ve Got the Blues

The colors are a brilliant addition to the artwork. While the original black and white printing may have been a cost decision, it also served a clear purpose: to convey the idea of a lifeless world. The film used a similar technique: muting out the colors to create a gray, surreal atmosphere. The colors in this edition of PIZZERIA KAMIKAZE maintain an air of dreariness, but add some much needed “life” (for lack of a better word) into the bizarreness of this story. While the mundanity of the afterlife is a crucial part of the narrative, the color keeps it from being too mundane.

A Second Chance

While this book is about people who killed themselves, it isn’t necessarily about suicide. It’s about people trying to find meaning after they’ve already died. After Mordy kills himself, he goes about just passing time and drinking, presumably as he did in life. However, once he learns that Desireé is somewhere on this world, he sets out to find her. Is she what gave him meaning in life? Will he be disappointed in their reunion? If so, what will he do then?

Pizzeria Kamikaze
Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios

The Question Within PIZZERIA KAMIKAZE

Mordy asks himself, “What makes me happy?” PIZZERIA KAMIKAZE asks the reader the same question. This is why the afterlife in this story is so similar to the living world. We are in almost the same situation as these characters. Upon realizing that suicide is not the answer to their problems, they are forced to give their new (presumably immortal) existence meaning. The reader is left to reflect on how they find fulfillment themselves, in a remarkably subtle and unusual way.

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Final Thoughts

As much as I love it, I don’t think PIZZERIA KAMIKAZE is for everyone. I’m not saying that its too high-brow for the common comic fan to understand. But if you’re looking for something a little more exciting, PIZZERIA KAMIKAZE just isn’t your book. Certainly, it got me thinking about what makes me happy, and the art is enjoyable. However, I can see a lot of readers finding it boring.

It’s like when comedians stop in the middle of their jokes to talk about something kind of serious. They might not make you laugh, but they make you think, and you’re glad you listened. If you’re someone who’s into more introspective stories, then this is definitely the graphic novel for you. I recommend sharing it with a friend, so you can hear their interpretation of the story.

Order PIZZERIA KAMIKAZE in color on BOOM! Studios’ website, or on Comixology.com.

PIZZERIA KAMIKAZE by Etgar Keret and Asaf Hanuka
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
PIZZERIA KAMIKAZE is a great read that is sure to take you on a rollercoaster of feels. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but its great for anyone who's into slice of life... er, death.
92 %
Melancholy Beauty

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