Joe Sacco

 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.

Check out Sacco’s recent comics on Iraq, downloadable as pdfs–Trauma on Loan and Complacency Kills.

Also available online in-full, The Underground War in Gaza, originally published by The New York Times Magazine in 2003.

9 thoughts on “Joe Sacco”

  1. Thanks for posting! I’m finishing up “Palestine” right now, been reading a chapter a night in order to let the material soak in… it IS really cool how Sacco inserts himself into the narrative; far from being a detached reporter, he admits his problematic ideas and relationships to the people he meets in Palestine. My fave example is on p. 141, where after a whole section on women’s rights in the occupied territories, he makes a sexist joke and laughs with some guys. I wish more people were so brutally honest!


  2. I was lucky enough to have “Palestine” on a (phenomenal) course reading-list as an undergrad. Nothing of his I wouldn’t highly recommend. Well, maybe the “But I like it” comp., but fans will still enjoy it. He also had a great 2 part piece about African refugees in Malta (“The Unwanted”) in VQR not too long ago.

    Bk, have you read “The Photographer”? (9781596433755) It incorporates comic & photo journalism…another great one.


  3. Since I am having only read a very few graphic novels (mostly “classics” of the genre, such as Maus), it is always interesting for me to discover new to me authors and works via your blog. Thank you for the good work!


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