An Education Through Comics – The Books of Joe Sacco

A while ago, I lent out my copy of Joe Sacco’s Palestine to a coworker. Joe Sacco is a journalist and cartoonist who spent a lot of time in the West Bank and Gaza in the early 90s, which resulted in the short comic series Palestine. Sacco draws himself in the book as well as he interacts with all the people he comes across while he walks the streets, hears stories about the occupation, and even at times is witness to events as they unfold.

I figured my coworker, who grew up in a few different countries and has a lot more knowledge about the world than most, would appreciate it.

Not quite.

“What is this? I can’t read this!” he said, coming by my cubicle with Palestine in his hand, some days after I gave it to him.

“The book is about how it is there!” I told him.

“I already know how things are! I thought this was going to be funny!” He set the book on my desk and walked away.

Not exactly how I thought that would go but that’s on me. I didn’t set it up to tell my coworker that I wasn’t handing him a compilation of the funny pages but instead an insightful look at a troubled region.

What I liked about the book was precisely that it wasn’t meant to be funny. It was instead a piece of impactful reporting.

Recently I’ve been wanting to learn more about pretty much everything. When I came back from my last trip, I wanted to read more about the war in Bosnia and was thinking about if there was really good way to ease my way into the history of the war and to hopefully learn more about the context of all the stories I heard, short of picking up a massive history book. If only there was something that I could read! Then I remembered that Joe Sacco illustrated and wrote Safe Area Gorazde, about a designated safe area in Eastern Bosnia during the war. I figured I should get my hands on it and read it.

And … then I remembered I had it on my bookshelf. It was one of those books I bought but never actually got around to reading. So I sat down and read it and felt like such an idiot as Sacco laid everything out for me, all about the issues between the various groups of people, what happened right before the war started (confirming what I heard in the narratives I was told when I was there), and the effect the war had on a people whose lives were stalled because of the strife. Honestly, I should have read it before I left for my trip.

I wasn’t done after that – I ordered Sacco’s The Fixer and Other Stories, read those, and also his book Journalism, which compiles several pieces he did in the past for various media outlets, stories he did on India, Malta, Iraq, and other places. All throughout reading these, I wondered why I hadn’t read them before.

There’s something about Joe Sacco’s comics. With his reporting and illustrations, the reader is right there in the story, getting perspectives of conflicts that they normally wouldn’t have access to. I highly recommend his work to everyone.

Side Note: Check out my blog posts on his other books – Footnotes in Gaza and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.

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