Week ahead: 7

7 10/9 Fall Break: No class
10/11 Palestine chapters 5-6
10/14 Sketch 6: What’s in your bag?

I hope you all had a really nice fall break and you feel rested and recovered, ready to push on to Thanksgiving break.

We’ll spend a few minutes in class on Thursday talking about your triptych comics. Then we’ll circle back to your literacy narratives and the plan moving forward for remixing your narrative into a comic. Then we’ll discuss the next two chapters of Palestine. We won’t finish reading the entire book, though, because next week we start with Stitches.

Here are two brief passages from “History and the Visible in Joe Sacco” from Hillary Chute’s Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form that we might think about as we ground our discussion of Palestine:

[Sacco’s] works ask readers to confront key epistemological questions, using the word-and-image form of comics to provoke considerations of how history becomes legible as history.

Sacco’s comics journalism is shaped by twin drives. On the one hand, in addition to the artifice innate to comics, his work is openly reflective about itself, actively acknowledging the instability of knowing — and the problem of transmitting knowledge. […] On the other hand, the investigative drive for accuracy, the drive to create a record of unarchived voices, all in the service of compelling an acknowledgment of the specificity of the other, is paramount.

Because comics texts are conspicuously drawn by hand and thus inherently reject transparency, instead foregrounding their situatedness, nonfiction comics demand attention to history’s discusirvity. The question of the nature of the visual — the work that it does, and how — is critical to texts that claim historicity, and that operate within, and are expressive of, the landscape of the traumatic. The medium of comics is always already self-conscious as an interpretive, and never purely mimetic, medium. Yet this self-consciousness, crucially, exists together with the medium’s confidence in its ability traffic in expressing history. Taking for granted that ‘pure’ historical representation is never possible, comics calls into question the status of any ‘objective’ or ‘realistic’ account, including historiographies — especially those that bank on the seeming transparency of words (198-99).


But while both Spiegelman and Sacco demonstrate the efficacy of the visual for materializing history and testimony, each registers a separate kind of concern with the political project of representation. In Maus, Spiegelman employs loose, sketchy lines in order to signal his abdication of aesthetic mastery as appropriate to representing the Holocaust. Sacco’s style, on the other hand, is dense, virtuosic, and often photorealistic, an ethical attempt to represent intimately those ignored in the world arena. The places from which Sacco reports — the Middle East and the Balkans — are linked in Sacco’s project of representing those whom history devastates and ignores, in this case largely Muslim populations: ‘You see extremes of humanity in places like Palestine and Bosnia. . . . Mostly what you see is innocent people being crushed beneath the wheels of history,’ he says. Sacco works outside of a newsroom (and Internet-instantaneous) deadline culture. In his investigation of brutal and often genocidal systematic political oppression, Sacco is riveted by the complexities of particular, war-torn ordinary people, examining and presenting details of their lives that are elided in mainstream media and journalistic enterprises. For this reason, he calls his work ‘slow journalism.’

Sacco’s comics are resolute in their slowness — for the creator, in terms of his production time, and for the reader, in terms of navigating dense narrative surfaces. Palestine took two months to research and three years to draw; Footnotes was almost seven years in the making — four of which were spent drawing. This pits Sacco’s style of journalism against much (spectacular) media and specifically against what Nicholas Mirzoeff calls today’s quick-cut ‘present tense only’ mode of watching. Indeed, especially in the context of war reporting — and the circulation of what Mirzoeff calls ‘weaponized images’ that accompany and play a role in justifying war — the slowness of Sacco’s comics is both a mode of ethical awareness and an implicit critique of superficial news coverage (201).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *