Thursday, August 22, 2013

Journalism by Joe Sacco

Sometimes a book's title just tells you exactly what it is: this is a book of journalism, and it's by Joe Sacco. There's something thrilling about that purity; it doesn't even have a subtitle to explain that Sacco does his journalism by way of comics -- the panels floating up from the background of the cover will have to do that.

So this is a collection of Journalism. Perhaps the fact that it's short journalism doesn't need to be said? But Sacco's other work -- most famously Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde -- is mostly book-length, the product of a long process of investigative trips into dangerous territory (into the middles of wars, occupations, and other tense, dangerous situations) and more time spent back in the US, turning those explorations into words and pictures.

Journalism collects some small pieces that popped up in between the larger book-length works -- a visit to the war-crimes trial in The Hague of some Serbian mass-murderers, several short pieces about Gaza and Hebron -- and a few longer works that are basically short books in themselves, on the refugee camps of Chechens, on the flood of African refugees troubling tiny Malta (where Sacco was born), and on the poorest and most untouchable of India's many castes in a poor northern state. There are also a few pieces about the Iraqi occupation, with Sacco embedded in a Marine unit, witnessing attempts to train local soldiers to something like competence, and investigating the claims of torture at US hands by two Iraqi men. Those last seem like they could grow into a new book, or be the offshoots of that book -- it's certainly a subject that could use a Sacco to look at it closely.

Throughout all of the stories, Sacco always is drawn to the poorest, the lowest, the most downtrodden and endangered -- the refugees, the tortured, the hapless bystanders caught in the crossfire. It's an excellent tropism for a journalist to have, and it's served Sacco well throughout his career -- he's not a journalist who will be tempted by access, or the prestige of wealth and power, or the lure of a puff piece in some cushy Western capital. Sacco is honest and uncompromising in the way a great journalist must be -- he goes to see what he has to see, and reports back as well as he can, showing us the sights as well as the words. Journalism would be an excellent introduction to his work, and is a vital, compelling read for anyone concerned with the way this world really is.

(I've previously reviewed the Sacco books But I Like It, The Fixer, and Footnotes in Gaza here.)

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