You could call Joe Sacco a cartoonalist — a jourtoonalist, maybe. A formally trained journalist and a respected comic artist who often illustrates Harvey Pekar’s popular American Splendor, Sacco made waves in 2001 with his illustrated history, Palestine.
Sacco hones in on the Gaza Strip again in his latest book, Footnotes in Gaza. Drawn to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict here, he specifically zooms in on a mid-1950s massacre that left more than a hundred dead: Palestinians pulled from their homes by Israeli soldiers, lined up against city buildings and shot. Having passed over the atrocity in his previous research, now Sacco felt drawn to it. Focusing on the massacre, he soon found that there were hardly any formal mentions of it in the English language. How could an event so horrible and so grisly have been reduced to a mere footnote in the history of the long Middle Eastern conflict? To prevent it (and events like it) from sliding any further into oblivion, Sacco returned to the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip in search of survivors, guerrillas, widows — anyone who could help him reconstruct the massacre.
Sacco presents his findings over the course of 432 pages — which may sound tedious, except that he quickly proves that investigations, when illustrated comic book-style, are perfect for reconstructing not only history, but also the process that goes into building a journalistic story. Throughout the book, Sacco shows his own journey — through border crossings and across language barriers — to ind people willing to talk about the incident. Then he reconstructs their stories — depicting horrific violence, loss and fear through meticulously drawn black-and-white panels.
As a whole, Footnotes in Gaza, uses this isolated incident to tell a larger story — a humanized story — of how senseless, vindictive violence has left the Middle East in shambles. And by illustrating this journalistic account, Sacco leaves us with a cinematic story that will appeal to more than the average news-seeking Time magazine reader. This isn’t just a news story. It was real life.