Journalism by Joe Sacco

16059574Nonfiction — print. Metropolitan Books, 2012. 192 pgs. Library copy.

This collection of short-form comics produced by Sacco for various journalist enterprises reports from conflict zones around the world — Gaza, Chechnya, Iraq — and as well as from areas trying to reconcile with the aftermath of those conflicts — migration from war torn African nations to Malta, the war tribunals for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, poverty amongst the Dalits (“untouchables”) in India. At the end of reprinted comic, Sacco offers thoughts on the way the comic was originally presented — what he would have changed, how “serious” journalism viewed the work, how he address the idea of being “balanced” in his presentation of such events.

Of the six sections in Sacco’s collection, I found “Migration” and “The Caucasus” to be his strongest works. In “Migration”, Sacco returns to his family’s original homeland of Malta (they later immigrated to Australia) to interview the African immigrants said to be “invading” the island nation of Malta and the Maltese who are struggling to reconcile their reputation for hospitality, which dates back to St. Paul’s shipwreck in Acts, with this wave of immigrants.

I have largely encountered this issue in an academic setting where particularly attention was paid to the Italian government’s policy so I appreciated the chance to understand the issue on a more intimate scale. Sacco states in his recollections at the conclusion of the chapter that his sympathies are with the migrants — a fact that is rather obvious in the panels of the comic — but he does give the Maltese an opportunity to express an wide range of opinions and fears within the story. An interesting balance of subjectivity and neutrality not often found in typical news outlets or in academia.

“The Caucasus” was the most informative section; my knowledge of the conflict in Chechnya is largely constructed by the search for answers by journalists and the public following the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. The events on the ground are far more complicated than can be explained in a five minute news segment or a forty-page comic and Sacco does seem to oversimplify in his explanation of the conflict. But the deep human suffering presented within each panel is so moving, so beautifully rendered that I wanted to head right down to the public library and check out as many books on the history of Chechnya as possible.

My only complaint about this collection and Sacco’s work, in general, is that each panel is so text heavy that the comic becomes overwhelmed and forgotten. I understand the desire to provide as much background information as possible; Sacco often addresses issues and places not covered in American media and poorly understood by the public. But I constantly found myself focusing on the text that I would forget to look at the drawing behind the text book and had to remind myself to stop and appreciate them.


  1. This sounds really interesting! I have Palestine on my library wishlist but I’ll have to see if the library has this one as well–I only became familiar with Sacco last month with Nonfiction November (love these discoveries!). And I understand what you mean about the text heavy graphics–I had that problem with Are You My Mother? by Bechdel and found it terribly distracting (especially since I love her illustrations). It’s a fine balance!


    • I have Palestine on my library wishlist because of Nonfiction November as well! That seems to be the one everyone has read, but he has quite the back catalog that I decided to try The Fixer and this one while I waited.


  2. Kinga

    I really loved Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde, but I wasn’t aware of his other books. I will most definitely find a copy of this one. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    His book on Gorazde was fascinating, but also text-heavy.


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