Thursday, December 31, 2009

Note on Footnotes in Gaza
Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco

Sacco seems to have realized the futility of being a reporter who reports his news in the form of comics. Comics are too laborious, too time-consuming, to be an appropriate medium for reporting, which depends on at least a degree of immediacy. Hence this book is a history--he is investigating events from 1956. He shows the investigation as it unfolds, but already that time is itself in a past that is substantially different from today (he was researching this at the beginning of the Iraq War).

But one is forced to ask, why is this a comic book? People write excellent non-fiction books like this all the time (i.e., books where the author is part of the story, which combine history and personal stories. For example, I just read a supurb example of this genre, Methland.) Comics is Sacco's chosen medium, and he does it well, but prose seems better suited for this kind of book.

The answer may come be comparing Footnotes in Gaza to Robert Crumb's Genesis. It comes down to the faces. The stories of the massacres at Rafah and at Khan Younis and the story of Genesis share one important feature--a huge cast of characters, most not very important by themselves but important to the fabric of the story as a whole. In prose, a sea of names can overwhelm you. What Sacco and Crumb do is to give faces to the names that are unique and memorable. Of course, this requires consummate cartooning skills, which both artists have.

There are many things non-fiction prose can do with ease that are obviously difficult for Sacco to do. But he trades these for the ability to depict his subjects visually--their faces especially--which makes them memorable and gives them life.

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