Tag: Joe Sacco
I have an absolutely monstrous stack of comics and graphic hoo-hahs I’ve been neglecting, so I’m going to start trying to power through them a few at a time. More backlog mini-reviews to follow.
Journalism is a book for Joe Sacco completists and fans. While I heartily recommend becoming both of those things, it isn’t the first book of his I would buy if you’ve never read him before. It collects most of the short pieces he’s done on assignment for various magazines over the past 15 years or so.
The best of these are the ones that deal with the problems of poor, powerless groups we rarely hear about: Chechen refugees, African migrants stranded on Malta, and the dalits of rural India. Not coincidentally, these are also the longest three pieces in the book—Sacco is really at his best when he can pile up humanizing details and make the reader understand life from his subjects’ perspective. All three are further evidence that Sacoo is by far the most important creator of comics today.
Preview at the link above.
Matt Kindt likes his high concepts. His breakout book 3 Story was about a man who never stopped growing; his follow-up Revolver was about a man who switches between realities each time he goes to sleep. His new series Mind Mgmt is structured more as a mystery than those other two: rather than taking his high concept and playing out its implications, he has a journalist main character trying to figure out the (probably high-concept) cause of bizarre events. A whole airplane of passengers and crew gets amnesia simultaneously; all the inhabitants of a Mexican town begin making pottery with motifs from Zanzibar. She is chased by shadowy, murderous agents as she tries to learn more.
Two issues have come out and I still have no idea where all this is heading. Kindt keeps hinting at a grand conspiracy manipulating history and perhaps reality itself. So far I’m liking it quite a bit, and we’ll see if the payoff can live up to the hints.
Speaking of hints and payoffs … J.M. DeMatteis’s Brooklyn Dreams is like the textbook version of what John Gardner calls a yarn. It has an overtly conversational voice that keeps refusing to tell us things, promising revelations to come down the line. Meanwhile the story it is telling is about growing up as a teenager in Brooklyn, having a fairly shitty home life, slacking off in school, doing a few too many drugs. All perfectly fine subjects for a story, but all through it the narrator keeps telling us that the real shit is yet to come—and that shit, when it finally arrives, is so underwhelming it underwhelms all the good work that came before it.
Note to authors: don’t overpromise. If DeMatteis had foreshadowed less, I might have been more interested in his final epiphany.
Another mystery: in Sean Ford’s Only Skin, people keep disappearing from a small town. Mostly they vanish into the forest. A young woman returns to town with her 10-year-old brother to look for their father, one of the missing.
Ford takes his time with the story and the book’s big pages give plenty of space to his simple black-and-white drawings. The combined effect is a kind of languid, semi-ironic terror that I found very effective.
To give one example: he draws ghosts like the ones from Pac-Man, a hanging sheet with two holes for eyes. But he takes those ridiculous icons absolutely seriously as ghosts, capable of real menace.
I will also say that I did not see the villain coming, nor come close to guessing how the end would unfold. It’s a real pleasure to be surprised like that. The book sneaks up on you quietly. Highly recommended.
In the decade and a half or so since Joe Sacco invented long-form “graphic journalism,” not many authors have tried to do anything like it. Guy Delisle, to a certain extent David Axe, Dan Archer. But more and more seem to be picking it up, and in Oil and Water journalist Steve Duin and artist Shannon Wheeler show why it has such great power when done right.
Like Sacco, Duin and Wheeler take us inside a tragedy that’s already been covered extensively by traditional news outlets: last year’s terrible BP oil spill. And like him they do it by focusing on individual stories, giving humanity and voice to people who we’ve otherwise met only in three-second soundbites at best, giving local color to the news’s dispassionate accounts.
Comics are an especially good medium for this, I think. Text alone doesn’t give the same effect of a person’s face speaking directly to you, and filmed documentaries must either hope their subjects are eloquent and charismatic or else edit their interviews extensively. Graphic journalists can clean up what people say and make them even more magnetic than they are in real life.
The frame for the reporting here is a trip to the Gulf taken by a group of about a dozen Oregonian environmentalists a few months after the spill. They are there to “bear witness,” they say, and it’s unclear what else they’re doing. There’s no attempt in the book to find a point-of-view character or to investigate very deeply what any of the visitors think about what they see; they are merely recording eyes who occasionally voice opinions. I don’t know if that will work for every future tragedy or even for every reader of this book, but it worked just fine for me. The book as a whole has a clear, angry point of view and it’s one I share. I’m a birdwatcher. The mass deaths of birds they describe upset me a lot. I don’t need that dressed up with characterization.
The only thing I wish were different is the art. Wheeler has opted for an almost impressionistic style in black and white, basic line figures shaded with ink brushwork. In a few panels this is quite effective, notably in some overhead landscape views of the Gulf or of towns. Much of the time, though, I found myself wishing for more detail. Since the event itself takes center stage, I wanted to experience it more fully, to see real individuality in the people who spoke and particularity in the lands around them. I wanted drawings that were more realist, in other words.
Even so, Oil and Water is a real achievement, both as a political statement and as a marker in the development of its subgenre.
PDF preview here.
Not new in 2010 and therefore not eligible, but back in print for the first time in 10 years and worth buying: Cages.
#6: Brian Wood, DMZ Volume 8, Hearts and Minds
After years in the war zone that was once Manhattan, journalist Matty Roth’s bad decisions finally catch up to him in this volume. He makes one wrong step too many and loses his soul. Along with Northlanders Volume 4, The Plague Widow, this book cements Brian Wood as one of the best writing any kind of comic today. Also good from Brian Wood this year: the reissue of Local.
#5: Brian Michael Bendis, Scarlet
Brian Michael Bendis has given us the origin story of a revolutionary and promised us a revolution. We’re only a few issues in, but so far he hasn’t pulled back from that extreme commitment. I hope he never does.(I also wrote about issue #2.)
#4: David B. and Pierre Mac Orlan, The Littlest Pirate King
This late entry from Fantagraphics elbowed its way on here after I’d published the initial list. A children’s tale with a deeply messed up, traumatic ending and beautiful art.
#3: Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library #20: Lint
I hadn’t loved what Chris Ware had been doing over the last couple of volumes of Acme Novelty Library. Frankly, not many of his fans did. Read the self-deprecating product descriptions on his Drawn and Quarterly page sometime (“flat,” “slow,” “always dreary”). With Lint, though, he’s done something not only affecting but politically relevant by taking us inside the mind of a man something like George W. Bush.
#2: Joe Sacco, Footnotes in Gaza
Joe Sacco wove together descriptions of present-day Gaza with accounts of two smallish war crimes from fifty years ago to create arguably the most important comic of 2010. Ten years after the Holocaust, young Jews act out a version of the same dark drama.
#1: Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura, I Kill Giants
Childhood escapes from troubled home lives into fantasy are hardly unexplored territory, but Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura executed this one perfectly. I called it the Bridge to Terabithia of comics and I meant it. (Also very good by Kelly this year: Four Eyes.)
I’ve wondered what Joe Sacco was doing with himself recently. He hasn’t published a major work since Safe Area Gorazde in 2000, and not even any new minor work since The Fixer in 2003. Well, now I know: for the last eight years he’s been working on Footnotes in Gaza, the most important comic of 2009 or 2010. (Depending on how you count it. It’s listed with a publication date of December 2009, but I’ve only seen it in stores beginning two weeks ago.)
Back in 2002, during the lead-up to the Iraq war and in its earliest days, Joe Sacco was in the southernmost part of Gaza, close to the Egyptian border, interviewing survivors of two events from the war between Israel and Egypt in 1956. One of these, as reported by survivors, was a simple massacre: many of the men in a town and adjoining refugee camp were lined up and shot. The second is more complicated. Israeli soldiers gathered all the men in a second town and refugee camp and selected those they thought were fighting for Egypt to be bussed to a prison. During the course of the day some men were shot for not following orders or beaten to death.
Interwoven with these accounts are Sacco’s observations of life in Gaza as he travels around those refugee camps conducting interviews with old survivors. It’s a sad, cramped place whose residents are not only angry at Israel, for shooting at them and bulldozing their homes, but also at the Palestinian Authority, for selling them out, and often at Hamas and other militants for attracting Israeli guns, tanks, and rockets to their neighborhoods. (2002, remember, was considerably before the Bush administration egged the Palestinian Authority into the armed conflict with Hamas that lost them all control over Gaza.) We see the same neighborhoods in their 1956 incarnations, as fairly new UN refugee camps, and in their much more built-up and crowded 2002 aspects, filled with teenagers who have never lived in a normal place and have nothing to do but follow Sacco around and make trouble.
There is nothing intrinsically important about the two events that have drawn Sacco’s attention. They are two small war crimes in a 50-year war full of crimes on both sides. But consciously or not, by reconstructing events from eyewitness testimony Sacco echoes every Holocaust documentary since and most especially including Shoah. It is jarring to see young Jews, some of them surely child Holocaust survivors or the children of survivors, conducting roundups and lining up men against walls barely ten years after World War II.
There is no way a book like this could avoid being an accusation against the state of Israel, though Sacco does include un-cartooned interviews and documents in appendices to provide Israeli perspectives on the past and current events he depicts. And there is perhaps no way to recommend it as strongly as I would like to without taking part in that accusation. But my own reaction, for what it’s worth, was closest to the perspective of John Sayles’ Men with Guns: it’s true that there are two sides to any conflict, but they aren’t the two sides fighting, they are the men with guns and the people without. All young men grouped and trained to kill are monsters.