In her last post, Miri­am Libic­ki blogged on her process for cre­at­ing the com­ic series job­nik. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Peo­ple have remarked that there’s a whole lot­ta bus ridin’ in job­nik. Even in the issue where Miri­am is on fur­lough in the US and Cana­da, she spends a page rid­ing a bus. Why?

First­ly, there was a whole lot of bus rid­ing in my life at that time. I specif­i­cal­ly asked for and got a per­ma­nent assig­na­tion far from home,” mean­ing where you don’t go home every day. I was fur­ther from home than most; I lived in Jerusalem and served on a base about 30 min­utes from Eilat, the south­ern­most tip of Israel. Each Sun­day and Thurs­day, I spent 6 hours in tran­sit, not count­ing local Jerusalem buses.

You may know that a sol­dier in uni­form with prop­er ID can ride any bus or train for free in Israel. This is true, with the excep­tion of the entire south­ern tri­an­gle of Israel, between Be’er She­va and Eilat. Appar­ent­ly, this area is too remote, too sparse, or in the case of Eilat, too touristy for a sol­dier to have a rea­son to go there with­out pay­ing. Sol­diers who serve or live in this area need to car­ry a spe­cial Ara­va card” to be able to trav­el free on south­ern bus­es (Ara­va is the desert south of the Negev). This is just to illus­trate that my ser­vice was bus-filled even by IDF standards.

One chal­lenge of car­toon­ing about my army ser­vice is that most of it was real­ly, real­ly bor­ing. Some­how I need to depict tedi­um with­out being tedious; hope­ful­ly hav­ing a bus scene a cou­ple times an issue gives you the feel­ing that that was indeed how a big chunk of my life was spent.

But Egged bus­es are also sym­bol­ic. To me, bus­es are a lim­bo state between iden­ti­ties. You aren’t any­body when you trav­el alone on a bus. If you’re lis­ten­ing to music and star­ing out the win­dow, as I pre­fer, you’re prac­ti­cal­ly dis­em­bod­ied. One of my favorite things to do was to get off at my lay­over in Be’er She­va, walk across to the street to the mall, buy a mag­a­zine and order a fan­cy sal­ad at a cafe. I rel­ished that in my uni­form, read­ing a mag­a­zine and eat­ing a sal­ad alone, I could be any­body. (Being from a large fam­i­ly, and grow­ing up Ortho­dox in Colum­bus, Ohio where there weren’t any kosher restau­rants, means I still feel like a woman of mys­tery when I eat at a restau­rant alone.)

job­nik, as a prop­er bil­dungsro­man, is about iden­ti­ty, try­ing to find iden­ti­ty, try­ing on and dis­card­ing iden­ti­ties. Israelis join the army at 18 after grad­u­at­ing high school, so almost every­one still lives with their par­ents when­ev­er they’re not on base or in com­bat. I think this is an even more extreme con­di­tion of tog­gling between adult­hood and child­hood than the tra­di­tion­al Amer­i­can one of going away to col­lege (I lived with my sis­ter who was close to me both in age and emo­tion­al­ly, but there was a lot of my army life I kept hidden).

I noticed that not just I, but every sol­dier I knew, was a dif­fer­ent per­son at home and on base. One of my favorite illus­tra­tions of this was when I vis­it­ed my friend Yos­si for Shab­bat. He was a flam­boy­ant, in-your-face gay man on base, while at home with his Ortho­dox Sephardic fam­i­ly, he was a twice as aggres­sive­ly flam­boy­ant gay man. Then out at gay clubs, he was prac­ti­cal­ly demure. Clear­ly, the trans­for­ma­tions had to take place on the pub­lic trans­porta­tion between these spaces.

When I had that two-week fur­lough six months into my ser­vice, I spent it in Colum­bus, Toron­to and NYC. I planned it that way because I had stuff to do in all three places, and bus-rid­ing was so thor­ough­ly entrenched in my iden­ti­ty, maybe I thought I couldn’t go two weeks with­out it. The bus rides from Toron­to to New York, and then Man­hat­tan to Pough­keep­sie, were also sig­nif­i­cant for me at the time. In the first case, I spent twelve hours on a bus, and then learned when I dis­em­barked that my par­ents had been fran­ti­cal­ly phon­ing and email­ing peo­ple on both sides, because they had expect­ed me in New York a day ear­li­er. This rein­forced my belief that when I was out of sight of peo­ple who knew me, I ceased to exist. Which was com­fort­ing, giv­en how painful exist­ing often is.

Going to Pough­keep­sie in the mid­dle of the night wasn’t an adven­ture; it was exile from the prop­er Ortho­dox world of my sis­ter and her new boyfriend. I thought that after my longest bus trip ever, I would be able to stay still some­where. But I bare­ly had time to unshoul­der my giant back­pack before I found out my slut­ty girl cooties had to sleep sev­er­al coun­ties away, to pre­serve tzni­ut.

That’s the draw­back of hav­ing a tran­si­tion­al iden­ti­ty, not prop­er­ly belong­ing any­place; some­times peo­ple call you on it, and make you leave.

Then, of course, there’s ter­ror­ism. Blown up and upend­ed like a whale skele­ton is how most non-Israelis think of Egged Bus­es, the ones who do think of Egged bus­es. The sec­ond intifa­da start­ed in job­nik! issue 2, here at job­nik! issue 8, it’s the fol­low­ing March. Sui­cide bomb­ings haven’t real­ly begun in earnest yet, but they’re coming.

Miri­am Libic­ki has been writ­ing and draw­ing the self-pub­lished com­ic book, job­nik!, since 2003. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Miri­am Libic­ki is a graph­ic nov­el­ist liv­ing in Van­cou­ver Cana­da. Her 2008 Israeli Army mem­oir job­nik!” has been used in over a dozen uni­ver­si­ty cours­es. She teach­es car­toon­ing and illus­tra­tion at Emi­ly Carr Uni­ver­si­ty of Art and Design. She also makes a line of hand-silkscreened shirts and met her hus­band while fol­low­ing a nerd-folk band on tour.