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.