Journalism by Joe Sacco
Sacco is known for his in depth work in Palestine and Bosnia, but this collection of shorter works allows readers to get a wider view of the grim world that Sacco has chosen to document.
In the Caucasus, Sacco spends time with Chechen women trying to survive the refugee camps which Russia is eager to force out in order to declare the problem solved. Sacco’s narrative darts between the reality of life in these camps and the nightmare of the experiences that brought the women there, adding up to a harrowing, depressing and angering piece.
In his Iraq pieces, Sacco documents the trials of American soldiers and their harsh lot in wartime, as well as that of torture survivors attempting to sue Donald Rumsfeld for the horrific treatment.
Sacco goes to his native country, Malta, to investigate the influx of African refugees that has created a nightmare of crowding and animosity between the desperate people trying to escape horror and death, and the small country that cannot handle what has descended upon them.
In India, Sacco visits lower caste villages that are beyond bleak. So poor and beaten down are these people that they have given up caring about any human rights they deserve. They survive by raiding rat holes filled with foraged grain. It is a shocking existence perpetuated by the corruption of the higher castes in charge.
As with any of Sacco’s work, the stories he tells will make you cringe and cry, and he does this with clarity as he explains the history and context on a larger scale that leads to the horrors you witness.
It’s reality as too many Americans are unaware of it, but so much of the rest of the world cannot escape. Sacco, in the tradition of the greatest journalists, is on the side of the little guy, and is determined to present the individual stories with dignity and compassion.
His success is greater than many print journalists, and his form of graphic storytelling adds layers that they could never capture. If there is one graphic novelist who should be mandatory reading in American high schools, it is Joe Sacco, an important voice beyond his chosen medium.
The Voyeurs and July Diary by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized Books)
Autobiographical comics can be difficult for newcomers to the form to warm up to. So often the work of people who document lives they’ve barely lived, they can function as therapy that the world gets to peer in on. Lots of people undergo therapy, but their sessions aren’t necessarily interesting to listen in on.
Gabrielle Bell is one of those who transcends any fears you might have about the form – or, at least, this is as good as it gets, and if you’re open to the idea of spending some time with a self-deprecating, pseudo- hermit who isn’t always good at communicating, then you’re half-way there. The key to good autobiographical comics is perhaps to make the personal experience universal or ,if not that wide-reaching, at least wide enough to go beyond the creator and give the reader something to latch onto. Bell does that, emerging in her work as an Every Artist. There’s a lot to identify with.
In “The Voyeurs,” Bell offers a compilation of beautiful cartoon journals created over a several-year period that document the dichotomy between outward success and inner assurance that she is nothing but a loser. As she travels with boyfriend and creative collaborator, film director Michel Gondry, and attends the media event known as Comic Con in San Diego as their special guest with all expenses paid, it seems like fate has tossed magical glitter around her life. Yet, she’s the same person she ever was, the person who doesn’t like to leave her apartment for days, the person who is convinced she needs art lessons, the person who obsessively draws at any moment of the day, regardless of what is going on or where she is. As a cautionary tale for a creative person seeking success, Bell’s book is a must-read, stressing that success changes your itinerary, but not your soul.
Not meaning to, but functioning well as a postscript to “The Voyeurs,” her short book “July Diary” is a 31-day experiment that saw Bell do a diary comic a day for July, 2011, the year following the end of “The Voyeurs.” Here, the trappings of Bell’s life are much more down to earth- she even goes on a day-long temp job plugging and unplugging computers – and it’s a good source of context for readers of the previous book. Any creative person will probably be able to identify with Bell’s frustration at the challenge she has set out for herself, even going to far as to argue about it and justify the whole thing in within the content of her actual project. Truthfully, procrastination is as important a part of the creative process as massive self doubt, and Bell manages to translate her experience in a way that’s both singular and familiar, and will make you laugh.