Cartoonist and journalist Joe Sacco’s most striking achievement lies in showcasing not only the terrible face of war and displacement; but also its other face —the banal, the giggly; the undeniably human, even humane. Graphic novelist AMRUTA PATIL is full of admiration for his newest slow-percolation project.
Over the years, Sacco seems to have acquired a clearer sense of the great responsibility that comes with the great power his work wields. The easygoing ‘journal-style’ (seen in Palestine and Notes from a Defeatist), so popular in the 1990s when Sacco started off, has been traded in for greater precision and journalistic rigour. The artwork, drawn from extensive photo documentation — Sacco finds sketching on-location intrusive — and always teeming with detail, has become even more nuanced. Jumpy case arrangements have made way for quieter layouts. The text is now obsessively annotated. This textual detailing has brought Sacco appreciation as well as flak; the latter most notably from his hero R Crumb, who feels that the citations and footnotes get in the way of effortless storytelling.
What has remained unaltered is the narrator’s presence in the stories. Sacco has openly balked at popular catchphrases such as ‘objective journalism’; a point he reiterates by visually placing himself — rather deprecatingly — within his stories as the rubbery, toothsome non-hero whose eyes are inscrutable behind spectacles. In the introduction to Journalism, Sacco talks about the notion of “removing the self” from reportage: “By making it difficult to draw myself out of a scene, (the inherently interpretive medium of comics) hasn’t permitted me to make a virtue of dispassion…it has forced me to make choices.”