The LA Times gives a warm review to Joe Sacco’s newest book, Footnotes in Gaza. It is a slight shift from his usual approach in that he is reporting on a historical event. At the same time, though, he brings the issues forward to the endless conflict in Palestine. As always, though, he seems to bring a sense of the conflicted history to the story.
Nowhere is this as clear as when Sacco reproduces a eulogy for a kibbutznik killed by Palestinian infiltrators, delivered in 1956 by Moshe Dayan. “Let us not today cast blame on the murderers,” Dayan notes. “What can we say against their terrible hatred of us? For eight years now they have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza, and have watched how, before their very eyes, we have turned their lands and villages, where they and their forefathers previously dwelled, into our home.” It’s a stunningly empathetic statement — perhaps the most empathetic statement in the book — and it stands as an epitaph, not just for the dead of Rafah or Khan Younis, but also for everyone caught up in the endless turmoil of the Gaza Strip. Fittingly, it is Khaled who offers the Palestinian counterpoint. “It’s not a matter of victory,” he says in the closing pages. “It’s a matter of resisting till the end.” His posture, slumped, resigned, his face marked with sadness, tells us all we need to know about the toll.
I used to read DC war comics when I was younger, finding even then the superhero comics less than interesting. Which is not to say that if drug my copies of those comics out of the closet I might not find them insipid. Yet there was a reality to them that was more than real, less trapped in the generic conventions of super heroes which despite the fans of the genre who see a larger world reflected in them are still a let down when reading. I can still remember when one of the crew from the haunted tank in G.I. Combat was killed by a strafing airplane.
I mention this because the New York Times has an article about the reworking of the Unknown Soldier series from Vertigo and DC. In this reworking the Unknown Soldier takes place in Uganda and explores the civil war and its atrocities. It looks like tough stuff:
Unknown Soldier is unflinching in its depiction of violence, and that comes across even more strongly in the collected edition, without the monthly break between issues. One particularly horrific scene deals with the disfigurement of the title character: an inner voice navigates him through the violence, but when he reaches his breaking point, he hacks at himself to try to silence it. That gruesome episode came from Mr. Dysart’s imagination; some details he learned from his trip, he said, were too awful for the comic.
The art, too, communicates the violence in a stylized fashion and expands the work of comics as journalism that authors like Joe Sacco have created.
Joe Sacco is a writer whose work has always seemed to show the great power of the Graphic Novel. His comic journalism (not a disparaging description) is some of the best work I’ve seen in the field (and thankfully avoids the self obsessed woe is me story of other graphic novels). His artistry is in the comic genre, tending towards the caricature with people, but his drawings are realistic and detailed in a way that strives to document and highlight the story at hand. The stories in War’s End: Profiles From Bosnia 1995-1996are those of Bosnia at the end of the war. This is the third of his books in Bosnia, obviously not as strong as his master work Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995, but still showing his deft ability to write about war and yet never forget that for good or bad, he as a journalist is part of the story.
Soba, the first story, is not so much a story of war, but aftermath, an exploration of PTSD and rootlessness that comes after war. Yet it is more than just the soldiers coming back from the front, but a whole generation, a whole society that thought it was civilized and modern. What Sacco finds is the self destruction and disappointment that often comes with at the end of such wars. It is a solid, if brief, examination of the all to common and I think not repeated enough result of intense combat.
The second story, Christmas with Karadzic, isn’t as strong, but it does show that Sacco is aware of himself as participant and doesn’t try to deceive himself that he is an impartial professional. During the Christmas of 1995 he with several other journalists goes to interview Karadzic. It is not a particularly perilous journey, but it has its adventure and adrenaline. They get the scoop in the Republica Serbska and return to Sarajevo. Joe finds that he loves it; it was exciting and the other journalists, who live on cigarettes and tips, give him a rush. It is a two edged sword, because the idea is they are sending facts back to the papers, but it is as much an adventure as anything else. The willingness to show the reporters as part of the story is what makes Sacco interesting.
It is too bad that he has said that he probably can’t keep writing books like this because he can’t keep doing the journalism. Hopefully, the next one will be as interesting.