In the winter of 1991-92, Joe Sacco, a young writer and cartoonist born in Malta and raised in the United States, stopped off in the Palestinian territories after a trip he had taken to cover the first Gulf War. What he created there has since become a landmark of art. This winter, Fantagraphics books republished the complete graphic novel, Palestine, for the first time in hardcover, in what they are calling their Criterion edition (in a nod to the film series of the same name). It contains a long interview with Sacco, photographs and preliminary sketches from his notebooks, and the original essay by the late Edward Said that accompanied the 2001 paperback edition. The new materials should be fascinating both to new readers and to those familiar with the original novel. But more than anything, they point out how completely Sacco used the tools of the journalist to create a classic work of art that captures something beyond the scope of the camera and the well-argued polemics. Fifteen years after Sacco’s initial visit, the political narrative of the Middle East continues to unfold with no particular end in sight. There are no solutions here, either. Instead, one can see him discussing politics over late-night drinks and endless cups of sweetened tea; the way his pen captures the erotic power of the “beefcake” Israeli soldier and his hot female counterparts, or the 11-year-old girl in a hospital bed who confesses she threw some stones at some soldiers (who returned fire with their M-16s). In retrospect, it seems nearly quaint that six years ago, Said, writing about Sacco, could only compare him to the Marvel cartoonists of his youth. There is enough here to act as a template for a new generation all its own. -
About the Author
Amy Benfer has worked as an editor and staff writer at Salon, Legal Affairs, and Paper magazine. Her reviews and features on books have appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Believer, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times Book Review.