Review: Palestine

In Palestine, Joe Sacco collects impressions and experiences from his visit to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at the time of the first intifada in the early 1990s. Sacco went there because he felt that the Palestinian people were misrepresented in Western media and wanted to see for himself how they lived and what their side of the story looked like.

Maltese-American Sacco thus positions himself as the Westerner, the outsider. He leads the reader through the occupied territories and refugee camps but he does so in the role of the reporter, the outsider.

Sacco is a cartoonist and journalist and in Palestine, he favors a gritty style which is reminiscent of Robert Crumb. His reporting style reminds of Gonzo journalism where the personal style is foregrounded to achieve accuracy and the personal and emotional experience provides the context for the story. As Sacco is invited into people’s homes and listens to their stories, he becomes more and more sympathetic and involved in their plight.

In terms of color, he keeps to black and white which suggests both seriousness and a difficult topic. His drawing style however, at least in the first part seems to contradict that, characters are drawn in a very cartoony style.  Their facial features such as the nose, ears and teeth and exaggerated and distorted.

As to encapsulation and layout, Sacco switches between splash pages and asymmetrical panels. His panel structure becomes more ordered in the latter part of the book though.

He employs a dense style which resists easy consumption. At first this can be a bit overwhelming, and it slows down the reading pace considerably, but Sacco wants readers to devote some time to each panel or page and be aware of the complexity of his subject.  Sacco might be using the comic format, supposedly a simplifying medium, to take on the Israel-Palestine conflict, however, he makes use of exactly this medium’s possibilities to convey the complexity of his chosen topic. These possibilities are a density of text and image on most pages and even in most panels, which require readers to devote more time to the process of decoding than other graphic works do. Together, the unhurried pace and absence of a goal in Sacco’s narrative and the density of text and image is how Sacco detains readers.

From what I’ve seen of a later of his works, Sacco’s style seems to have evolved and improved and he went to for example Bosnia with the goal of reporting in graphic from in mind. So perhaps there will be more structure to his later works, though I did not mind the lack in Palestine, it served a definite function.

Palestine is an example of what Sacco refers to as comics journalism. I have to say I’m intrigued by this use of the format for journalism It might be a time-consuming way to report, but in case of ongoing conflicts such as this one, I can definitely see the advantages.

The comic book format keeps surprising me, what I always considered a medium solely for superhero tales now shows how well it can represent individual and collective trauma.

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15 thoughts on “Review: Palestine

  1. Sounds fascinating! The idea of doing a comic book about such a serious subject is very new. I very much enjoyed Waltz with Bashir, a film that uses a cartoon format to explore the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It was quite unexpected, and maybe it’s the contrast of a serious subject with a form we associate with more light-hearted stories that works so well.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Andrew. I think Spiegelman has shown how suitable the comic medium is to serious topics with Maus, and the heap of graphic memoirs support that view. But using this medium for journalism was new to me.

      I’ve seen Waltz with Bashir and enjoyed it as well 🙂 Still have to read the comic it’s based on though.

  2. Wonderful review, Bina! I liked very much your comment on the density of text and image in this book and how, though the graphic medium is regarded as simplying, Sacco uses this medium to depict complexity. I remember feeling this way while reading ‘Asterios Polyp’ by David Mazzucchelli – how each panel demanded the reader’s time and involvement. I will add ‘Palestine’ to my ‘TBR’ list. Thanks for this wonderful review!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Vishy. I love how though I will probably always prefer text, every graphic lit class and every comic I read further convinces me how innovative its authors and how adaptable and suitable comics are 🙂
      I still hope to find Asterios Polyp in the library at some point, but it appears to have many fans as it is always checked out. Hope you’ll like Palestine!

      1. I hope you get to read ‘Asterios Polyp’ sometime. Maybe the librarian will hide it for you when it is returned by the current borrower 🙂

  3. Very happy to hear this opened your eyes to the potential of the comics medium 😀 I need to read more Sacco – I’ve read Safe Area Goražde, but not Palestine.

    1. Heh, I’ve been learning about the possibilities of this medium, but always more in terms of representing trauma in memoirs. Using this medium for journalism was new to me 🙂

  4. I m not in to comic or graphic books a lot but this is one of the sort that appeals to me ,I also like books about Palenstine every book gives a new insight to the place ,all the best stu

    1. There are so many amazing comics, I’m sure you’ll find one that convinces you of the medium (it happened to me 🙂 ). Since you seem to be very interested in international literature and politics, you might want to try any of Sacco’s works or Waltz with Bashir or Persepolis.

  5. In lieu of all the events happening, I’d be very interested in reading this one next.

    Bina I absolutely love reading your reviews for it reigns with intelligence above par. Your writing and thoughts shine through brilliantly and I can only sigh when I’m here. Hmmmm brilliant absolutely brilliant!

    1. I do hope you’ll enjoy Palestine, Sacco’s later works seem to be even better in terms of style.

      Haha, stop making me blush, my reviews are hardly that great! 😀 Yours are much better!

  6. I like to read books on Palestine, graphic novels or not, this looks good. I’m intrigue how one would encapsulate a complex matter graphically, as picture would say a 1000 words but sometimes it doesn’t, esp with historical facts that requires some explanation.

    Thanks for the review as always!

    1. Encapsulation in Palestine is very well-done, I think. The first part is especially cartoony and more experimental while the second half appears to be more thought-out in terms of panel structure. There’s only quite a lot of text on some pages to give historical information and such. But mostly it’s about filling the gaps of our media-conveyed image of Palestine with stories by ordinary people.

      Hope Sacco can convince you 🙂

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