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Joe Sacco: come and get your free beer

September 28, 2006

Perhaps like me you develop crushes on inaccessible brainy artist type folks. Maybe this is something like the ‘love’ that teens have for rock stars, only more dignified. Well, maybe not.

Joe Sacco self portraitMy crush is on Joe Sacco. I’ve never met the guy, even though he lives right here in Portland. I’m not sure we’d wind up hitting it off that much in person, but I have a really strong reaction to him in his graphic/comic journalism. Not as self-deprecating as Harvey Pekar (for whom Sacco has brought to life his American Splendor comics in the 90s), he gives you this two-dimensional idea of himself in his books, leaving you wishing for a complete picture. Maybe it seems that way because you never see his eyes in every drawing he renders of himself.
Joe Sacco is the author of Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde, The Fixer, and some other books all in a comic book style. My favorite of all is Safe Area Gorazde, a book that Sacco wrote about the atrocities in Bosnia in the mid-1990s. He wasn’t there very long, but his book is more about picturing the stories of the people he got to know in Gorazde rather than his own experience, so it actually spans several years. A warning: it’s gruesome and brutal. His images are incredible and bring to life spaces that are difficult to imagine – but that need to be seen.

There are a lot of really neat people here in Portland, but if I could buy anyone a beer after work one day, I have to say that Joe Sacco is high on my list. If you’re reading this, Joe, at least do a reading or something. For being a Portlander you’re pretty quiet.

If you haven’t already read these, you must read Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde. His other stuff is less “important” though fun. But these two books completely transform the idea of journalism and brings you a much more vivid and engrained experience of war and conflict. It’s also a good primer on both situations – there is a great deal of history in each of them. I’d never heard of Gorazde before I read his book either, so don’t worry. It’s a city located in eastern Bosnia that was designated a “safe area” by the U.N. and therefore supposed to be protected from attack.

safe area gorazde image

One reviewer has this to say about the book:

“Atrocities abound in this chronicle. Reading it, I often found myself so sick to my stomach I could not continue. I could not turn the page and face the next example of Chetnik brutality or Western indifference (to describe the behavior of high-echelon UN peacekeepers as criminal negligence would be euphemistic). Sacco does not sensationalize these incidents. His depictions are restrained and matter-of-fact. Both his words and his drawings are kept simple and straightforward. Sacco respects the power of the material itself. He knows it needs no embellishment. Sacco does not shy away from the harshness of his material but also does not limit himself to cataloguing war crimes and cruelties.”

At times I felt just as sick as the reviewer, and I had nightmares. Don’t let that deter you though. It’s an incredible read – and so is Palestine – and it’s the sort of stuff we can’t ignore or forget.

Too bad Joe Sacco would surely die if he tried going to Iraq to talk about the stuff going down there on the streets. I suppose one has to draw the line somewhere.

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