Cartoon as Courage–Joe Sacco as Intrepid Explorer

Joe Sacco is special!  If you are looking for cartoon in the old-fashioned sense, as in funny, cute, clever, this is not what Sacco is about.  In the tradition of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?,  Sacco’s themes are serious.  Dead serious, as in about the politics which cause death.

Sacco takes his pen to the harshest places that humanity has to offer—ie, in Footnotes in Gaza to Israel’s occupied territories;  in Journalism  to Chechnya, trials of war criminals in The Hague, African refugee camps on Malta, a Dalit community in India where they are still untouchable.

Sacco is a wonderful artist, able to capture a set of unique images as he renders an individual’s story of unacceptable suffering.  No lectures, no varnish, not even a political analysis.  Just what has happened to that person, and perhaps back in time to parents and grandparents, and of course, children everywhere, suffering alongside the adults.   And an occasional bit about what has happened to Sacco as he learns what happened to his subject.

These are the places where humans have the worst problems—the ones we do not know how to solve.  These are the places where, though there is occasional good, we of the species do great harm to one another.  These are the people whose lives are so hard that I believe I would have died long since if I were any of them—of a broken heart, if nothing else.   And so, these are the suffering eyes that stare into the eyes of Sacco’s readers as their stories are told.

And my heart does break as I read Sacco.  And I believe reading Sacco is tremendously important.  And I have no answers for what he shows me.  And I will continue to read anything he does.  And I am ashamed that I do not dedicate my life to the work to solve these problems.   And this shame I share with the vast majority of my species, for of course, if we all emerged from our own more comfortable lives and figured out a way to demand an end to the cruelty–well then, it would end.  In what millennium?

And Sacco has the courage to go there, to look at the people, to draw them, and to show them to me.  And I have the courage to read him, to let it all into my heart, to allow him to lead me to the core of what it is to be human.

Read Sacco.  He could change your life.

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  1. Jackie Goldberg

    I must admit that your blog has encouraged me to go out and get some of Sacco’s
    work. I have never viewed his cartoons; but now I will. Thanks for introducing him
    to me.

    1. barbararhine

      I consider it an honor and a privilege to have someone respond to my blog by getting the book. Let me know if the Sacco you see lives up to the high expectations I created…

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