Thursday, February 11, 2010

Testing the waters: Palestine

Next in my series of "testing the waters," something about as far from my usual haunts as yesterday's manga - Palestine by Joe Sacco (Fantagraphics, 2001).

Palestine recounts Joe Sacco's time spent in Palestine during 1991-92 and illustrates his travels through the area and dramatizes stories told to him by residents. I first heard of Palestine just last month on an episode of the program Ink: Alter Egos Exposed which described how it was a work of "comics journalism." The very concept of a journalist writing & drawing a comic book instead of a text interested me.

There's a lot of sorrow to be found in Palestine, describing as it does tales from the first Intifada; how terrible that in the span of time since then there's been near-peace followed by a second Intifada. Because of the Intifada, Palestine still feels like current events. Of course, to quote Truman, "the only thing new under the sun is the old news people haven't heard." It's news to me to learn about the methods Israelis used (use?) to detain Palestinians and force false confessions out of them.

But in Palestine Sacco has no particular axe to grind, just an interest in the stories around him (particularly those that make for good copy). In the course of the book, Sacco is often asked questions about his own viewpoints by the people he encounters, but his responses are seldom included. The perspective is kept objective and while demonstrating sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, depicts them warts and all.

If I have any complaints about Palestine, they have to do with the presentation of the material. Many panels feature tilted caption boxes for no apparent reason. It forces your eye to look all over Sacco's pages, but I can't tell if it's to any desired effect or simply to appear artsy craftsy. Also, the images and text run very close to the spine - this book should have been printed on wider paper for greater ease of reading.

There are also some segments of the book which are not actually comics but instead are text with illustrations. But the format changes throughout, including an interesting portion recounted in a 4x5 panel grid.

Overall, I learned a lot from Palestine and I'm interested in seeing more of Sacco's work, as well as investigating more into the comics journalism genre (assuming there is anyone other than Sacco?).

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