Pulitzer prize winner Art Spiegelman is America’s foremost practitioner of comics as current events and history. However, Joe Sacco, who has brought his pencil to bear on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is coming on strong. I had reason to think about the oppression of Palestinians anew after Little Green Football‘s proprietor Charles Johnson attempted to stifle to discussion of the invasion of Iraq at Blogcritics. That interest happened to coincide with the return of Sacco, who spent much of his youth here, to Portland.
Joe Sacco has a motto. – “Me like to party.” – The 43-year-old, who is one of the most original cartoonists in the world, moved back to Portland this summer.
“I couldn’t handle being hung-over all the time,” he says with a smile.
Sacco spent the last year in Switzerland and the previous two in New York, where his work was endorsed by political writers Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens.
“And now I have a deadline.”
Sacco expects to deliver his next manuscript in spring 2006. The man who wrote the book on “cartoon journalism” has done the shoe-leather reporting on Rafah, a refugee camp in Gaza. Now he just needs his peace and quiet.
The new book will be the second Sacco has set in the Middle East. Palestine described the experience of a novice in that war-torn territory in the 1992-93. A reviewer at Amazon captures the zeitgeist of the revelatory comic.
Starting with a typical attitude of “Who cares?” Sacco shows us how his visit to the West Bank and Gaza in the early 1990s transformed him completely. Palestinians have much against them in todays world, not least the stereotypes of “supporting terror” . . . that the Israeli propaganda machine heaps on them every day. These stereotypes create a formidable barrier between the Palestinian people and Americans. Americans do not feel like they should even pay attention to these “insignificant terrorists” – and that is precisely the goal of the propagandists in the first place: to silence the Palestinians and prevent their very humanity (let alone their message) from being recognized.
Enter Joe Sacco, with master strokes of a cartoonist’s pencil, he succeeds singlehandedly in shattering those barriers. For the first time in an American [publication], you actually see Palestinians as people, you enter their households, you talk to them, you listen to their problems, and you think about it. Well, so what?
If you always thought that the middle east problem is “too complicated” or “has been going on for too long” to be able to understand it, it is time to get out your credit card and buy this book. In the most enjoyable cartoon style that makes it hard for you to let go of the book, you will see things like you’ve never witnessed them before. This is the raw human story, not the clinically sterilized CNN version of events, or the dry history book polemics. I guarantee that after reading Sacco’s Palestine, something will click and you will finally understand what’s been going on, more clearly than you ever have before.
WARNING: Not for the faint of heart!
If the West Bank is purgatory, then the Gaza Strip is Hell. So, Sacco returned to live there there for a time.
“I like Gaza. I like the people,” he says in his soft voice, still tinged by the Australian accent, where he lived until he was 12. “You don’t have this middle-class moaning that you hear in Ramallah and east Jerusalem from Palestinians. These people are refugees. They’ve got something to moan about.”
Sacco was determined to get a close-up look at the second intifada.