Graphic novel on IDF â€˜massacresâ€™ in Gaza set to hit bookstores
By The Associated Press
Fans say graphic novelist Joe Sacco has set new standards for the use of the comic book as a documentary medium. Detractors say his portrayals of the Palestinian conflict are filled with distortion, bias and hyperbole.
One thing is certain – the award-winning author of â€œPalestineâ€ leaves few readers indifferent.
Saccoâ€™s work has more in common with gonzo journalism than your Sunday comic strip: He travels to the worldâ€™s hot spots from Iraq to Gaza to Sarajevo, immerses himself in the lives of ordinary people, and sets out to depict their harsh realities – in unflinching ink and paper.
One of his biggest supporters is award-winning Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman, who directed the 2008 Golden Globe winning cartoon ocumentary â€œWaltz for Bashir.â€
â€œWhenever Iâ€™m asked about animation that influences me, I would say itâ€™s more graphic novels. A tremendous influence on me has been Saccoâ€™s â€˜Palestine,â€™ his work on Bosnia and then Art peigelmanâ€™s â€˜Maus,â€™â€ he said in a telephone interview.
â€œHis work quite simply reflects reality.â€
The American-Maltese artistâ€™s latest book, â€œFootnotes in Gaza,â€ chronicles two episodes in 1956 in which a U.N. report filed Dec. 15, 1956 says a total of 386 civilians were shot dead by Israeli soldiers – events Sacco said have been â€œvirtually airbrushed from history because they have been ignored by the mainstream media.â€
Israeli historians dispute these figures.
â€œItâ€™s a big exaggeration,â€ said Meir Pail, a leading Israeli military historian and leftist politician. â€œThere was never a killing of such a degree. Nobody was murdered. I was there. I donâ€™t know of any massacre.â€
Saccoâ€™s passion for the Palestinian cause has opened him up to accusations of bias.
Jose Alaniz, from the University of Washingtonâ€™s Department of Comparative Literature, said Sacco uses â€œall sorts of subtle waysâ€ to manipulate the reader.
â€œVery often he will pick angles in his art work that favor the perspective of the victim: Heâ€™ll draw Israeli soldiers or settlers from a low perspective to make them more menacing and towering.â€
Alaniz also said Sacco draws children â€œin such a way to make them seem more victimized.â€
Sacco himself admits he takes sides.
â€œI donâ€™t believe in objectivity as itâ€™s practiced in American journalism. Iâ€™m not anti-Israeli … Itâ€™s just I very much believe in getting across the Palestinian point of view,â€ he said.
In â€œPalestine,â€ which won the 1996 National Book Award, Sacco reported on the lives of West Bank and Gaza inhabitants in the early 1990s. â€œSafe Area Gorazde,â€ which won the 2001 Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel, describes his experiences in Bosnia in 1995-96.
Sacco has been lauded by Edward Said, the renowned literary scholar and Palestinian rights spokesman, who said in his foreword to â€œPalestineâ€: â€œWith the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever rendered this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco.â€
â€œFootnotesâ€ – to be released in the United States on Tuesday – sees Saccoâ€™s cartoon self, with the now trademark nondescript owlishly bespectacled eyes, plunge into the squalid trash-strewn, raw concrete alleys of Rafah, and its neighboring town of Khan Younis.
Sacco draws crowded narrow streets, full of prying schoolchildren and unemployed men. His desperate characters – fugitives, widows and sheiks – mix long past fact with fiction.
â€œWhat I show in the book is that this massacre is just one element of Palestinian history … and that people are confused about which event, what year they are talking about,â€ he said.
â€œPalestinians never seem to have had the luxury of digesting one tragedy before the next is upon them.â€
Sacco said in doing so he is trying to create a balance to what he calls the United Statesâ€™ pro-Israeli bias.
A scene in â€œPalestineâ€ shows an Israeli woman asking: â€œShouldnâ€™t you be seeing our side of the story?â€ Saccoâ€™s cartoon self replies: â€œIâ€™ve heard nothing but the Israeli side most of my life.â€
Sacco says he puts himself into his comics because he wants his readers to see and feel what he does.
â€œIâ€™m not pretending to be the all powerful, all knowing journalist god … Iâ€™m an individual who reacts to people who are sometimes afraid … On a human level, of course that colors the stories Iâ€™m telling.â€
Folman, who both wrote and directed the 2008 animated documentary film about a 19-year-old Israeli soldier still troubled by nightmares about the Lebanon War, says Sacco has brought something rare to the cartoon genre.
â€œThe way he illustrates says everything about the writing – itâ€™s so unique, there is nothing quite like him,â€ he explained.
â€œI really admire the guy … And I feel from his work that we share exactly the same opinions about whatâ€™s happening in the Middle East … The day will come when I will meet him and hopefully work with him.â€