Joe Sacco’s comic book journalism captures the human elements in disaster, bringing the world’s worst phenomena–war, political oppression, genocide–into a perspective that the average American can understand. Although I was certainly old enough to follow media coverage of the Bosnian War in the nineties, I didn’t really have any clue as to what the whole thing was about until I read Sacco’s alarmingly real Safe Area Goražde, a masterpiece of graphic journalism that puts a human face on planned extinction. Ditto for Palestine, a work detailing Sacco’s years in the Gaza Strip, exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestine distills an ancient and ungraspable conflict into a series of frames, images, faces, and words that becomes somehow easier to confront. Palestine certainly can’t explain the incursions and the stone-throwing and the land grabs and the refugee camps and the food shortages and the torture and the kidnapping–it doesn’t even try–but it does make these abstractions thoroughly concrete.
Sacco is by no means an impartial, objective observer–he eats and lives with the people he’s writing about, and appears in all his stories as a character. Some of the most poignant moments in Sacco’s work concern simple pleasures–like watching bad action movies on pirated VHS or sharing fresh coffee with a new friend–set against a backdrop of disaster. Like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Sacco’s comics work as an education in both politics and the humanities. Highly recommended.
Also available online in-full, The Underground War in Gaza, originally published by The New York Times Magazine in 2003.