Matt Bors prides himself (perhaps reluctantly) on being “The Last” nationally-syndicated editorial cartoonist in the United States of America. While the rest of the “sequential arts” are in the midst of their own Comic Renaissance, political and editorial cartoons are withering away with printed newspapers—now used with more satisfaction for fireplace starter and nesting material for gerbils than reading.
Despite this, Matt has built a decent following through cartoons and commentary that are consistently present and politically poignant. What do I mean by “present”? Outside of his regular publishing in regional newspapers near his home in the Pacific Northwest, his website archives all of his comics—which, from the perspective of social media (which have been steadily replacing print as our chief news sources for the past decade) are all very “share-friendly”. The first piece I ever saw of Matt’s got passed along in my Facebook feed, I believe, by the The Occupy Wall Street Page:
Web comic celebrity Matt Inman once put it a few years back, “With The Oatmeal, I wanted to create something where the viral marketing itself was the product, rather than trying to put it on something else.” I would argue that, er, Matt B. essentially does the same thing except with politicians instead of cats wearing ties (which does hurt his stats a little bit). In the realm of politics, though, Bors’ drawn conclusions are successfully competing with mainstream news media, (and they downright Haretsukan others in the domain of editorial cartooning). While the medium of the comic panels is almost defined by its accessibility, as Matt Inman hints at, the content of said panels remains a refreshing escape hatch from the suffocation usually associated with mainstream political discourse. It’s a pretty impressive balance.
For how long have you waited for an editorial cartoon–with mainstream accessibility–to point out the following:
(Check all that apply)
[ ] Most high-profile homophobes are probably gay (Matt keeps a list that’s about 2-score long)
[ ] The path to the Middle Class in America is arguably longer and harder than the path to citizenship
[ ] Despite being elected as the “anti-war candidate” against the GOP, Obama has continued the War on Terror, surged the troops in Afghanistan, NOT closed Guantanamo, and fully ushered in the era of drone-based warfare, currently occupying half a dozen countries in the Middle East / Central Asia.
[ ] Occupy wasn’t a bunch of hippies sitting in a drum circle, and “I am the 99%” wasn’t just an incredibly meaningful slogan thought up in between bong hits.
At this point you may be thinking, “Isn’t this supposed to be a book review?”
The book is Matt in 200 pages. It’s everything that he offers as a political cartoonist in both form and content. It’s editorial cartoons and comics journalism, satire and commentary, covering women’s rights, marriage equality, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, gun control, elections, debates and popular [mis]conceptions about all of these things. It’s a powerful and enjoyable showcase that makes you wonder why NO ONE else is doing it like Matt is doing it. Matt made fun of me, more or less, when I described him like that before–I guess I just don’t know how else to say it.
Is there anything I disagree with Matt on?
His cartoon about Julian Assange, which focuses on the allegations of rape against the Wikileaks founder, to me, is like looking at Obama’s foreign policy today and trying to focus on the 2012 Benghazi Attack. My point? That’s it’s sooooo not the point. And yea, I’m a woman and I know all about non-consensual sexual encounters; and yea, there’s an American diplomat to Libya out there, listening to Steve King or Lindsay Graham, going, “Give me a fuckin’ break!”
One cartoon not doing it for me, out of a thousand, is acceptable.
Matt’s book, Life Begins at Incorporation, can be purchased online through Matt’s website.
“Clearly New York was a dangerous place where terrible things could happen, but also a place that could turn ordinary people into superheroes.”
Kuper’s recently published work is building on the available literature making an argument for “graphic biographies” – not for people, but for places. Cities. Something attracts us to these massive collections of social activity that take on a life and personality all their own, and actually change us in the process. Radical artist (and former New Yorker) Eric Drooker postulates in the beginning of the book that people move to NYC as much to find careers and connections as they come to find themselves. Drawn to New York is a dedication to that power.
The book is a mash-up of a few different categories of work. There’s an intimacy in the quick sketches that are clearly drawn in the moment, on the subway, in cafes, (which conversely make you feel as close as you can be to that original scene, while also conveying that this book is really allowing you to peruse someone’s private journal/sketchbook –which is just the best thing in the world). As you peruse these pages, your eyes taking in a mesmerizing quantity of geometric shapes (so many right angles, so many windows!), a section of sketches will be punctuated with a longer piece of sequential art that tells a short story. As you read, the work more or less gets better and better; I can only assume this is because it is ordered chronologically, but I’m not sure.
The power of Kuper as a “New York artist” really shines in his highly-detailed stencil comics (made with multiple layers of stencils and spray paint), like the collection of New Yorker facial expressions, or his 2am trip to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge, or his commentaries on gentrification and crime.
Beyond the actual aesthetic of his work, the variety of perspective here is pretty broad, and is perhaps a part of Kuper himself being a New Yorker and an outsider (he’s originally from Cleveland–which oddly enough, has its own amazing graphic biography by Harvey Pekar.) His work goes from feeling like a love letter to an observation by an anthropologist of a place that is completely his “other”.
Towards the end his work has gotten pretty sophisticated, with pieces of comics journalism coming in about major NYC events, like his strip, “The Wall”. This piece, and every other, seems set in its conveyance that this great city is great for the same reasons it is so unstable: it is constantly in movement.
Or in Kuper’s words:
“This city is change. That’s its glory – it’s a perpetually unfinished canvas, offering up possibility to each successive wave of artists.”
A showcase of city and artist, with an interesting interplay between the two. That is, Peter Kuper is now, undeniably, a “New York artist”… the city shaped him. And in return, Kuper continues to pay tribute by making art that adds to the city’s ever-evolving mythos.
For more information about Peter Kuper, check out Peter’s book page in the PM Press store site.
Full Book Information:
Title: “Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City” Artist: Peter Kuper Introduction: Eric Drooker Published: May 2013 by PM Press Format: Hardcover only at this time Size: 10.5 by 8 Page count: 208 Pages Subjects: Art-Illustration, History-New York City, Regional-New York City List Price: $29.95
It’s safe to say that this past week was one of the busiest for me in recent memory. On top of working a 40 hour week at my day job (in 4 days), the Toronto Comic Arts Festival was in full swing and I was pulling together what I’d hope would be two kick-ass events for the weekend.
TCAF breaks records every year–has since I’ve been attending at least. If this year didn’t reach fire-code-breaking capacity at the Toronto Reference Library (in addition to several off-site satellite locations), and to be sure, they’re still still waiting on the official numbers, then it was awfully close. More notably there was an insane amount of talent at the show: Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly of RAW Magazine / MAUS / New Yorker fame. Jaime + Gilbert Hernandez, Tagame, Matsumoto, Chester Brown, Seth, David B… the list goes on.
Unlike my previous years at the festival, I saw a notable rise in interest (as well as work available) pertaining to political comic books. This is despite the skiddishness that remains around the term “political”. But whatever people want to call it, I found much more to chew on over the weekend than in years past.
Before I go into some books, a note on Comics Journalism.
If there’s one way to get people to talk comfortably about political comics and their viability, it’s Comics Journalism. I think it’s seen as a happy medium for a lot of different interest groups, whether it’s non-comic folk looking for some different non-fiction, or comic fans looking for a different type of page to turn. In turn, the sub genre doesn’t effect the topic. Joe Sacco really birthed the term, from his thumb-to-index-finger loins, with work like Palestine and Safe AreaGoražde, using comics to take on some pretty acceptable topics of intrigue in the journalism community… but since, really, you could do a comics journalism piece on just about anything and it would have the potential to be amazing. I look forward to seeing more and more come to maturity in this genre over the coming years.
…And secondly, a brief note about Art Spiegelman’s MAUS. I did not include MAUS in this list, because 1) I think it’s deserving of a little more commentary than one paragraph, for all it has done to influence the world of political comics… and comics in general. 2) It was put out 20 years ago. I feel like it’s a bit silly to put it among a list of up-and-comers with newly released works. (In other words, there will be more on MAUS as a specific work to come soon on Ad Astra!)
OK. To the books.
LIFE BEGINS AT INCORPORATION by Matt Bors – I’ve never considered myself a fan of editorial cartoons, so when I decided to back Matt’s Kickstarter campaign, that really just meant that I liked his work more than I cared to admit. After a bit of discussion and a lot of planning on both ends, Matt was able to make it up to Toronto to promote his book at TCAF, in the midst of some type of Eastern-Time-Zone-only book tour.
The book is a collection of political cartoons and essays spanning years of wonderful American political drama- from the gay marriage debate that is still somehow being discussed, to the continuing occupation of Afghanistan and the reality that war-time simply seems to be the perpetual reality for Americans, post-9/11. I have plenty to say about this book and have already uttered plenty of niceties here. My recommendation over reading my book-length review is just to buy the book. It’s better.
I will add, however, that Matt gave a great presentation to an engaged crowd at the Comic Book Lounge on May 10, the night before TCAF–despite monsoon thunderstorms and a competing 10th Anniversary TCAF party down the road (we had this shit scheduled MONTHS ago. We’re not the splinter group. THEY’RE the splinter group!). Attendees included at least one other fellow Kickstarter backer, which was great to see.
On Saturday evening, Matt and I shared a table with comic creators Josh Neufeld, Sarah Glidden, and Rutu Modan to discuss “Comics & Politics” at TCAF to a great crowd who asked lots of questions–from comics journalism to comics activism, free speech and “to draw or not to draw” (discussing the Mohammed cartoon), stereotypes, backlash for work done… it was great. And what’s more, it shows a genuine interest in political comics from a variety of entry points.
HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS by Sarah Glidden – Right in there on the topic of Comics Journalism. Sarah Glidden went to Israel on a Birthright trip and came out of it with How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less. Not only is it a journalistic piece about the country, it is journalism of herself experiencing it. The artwork is very much a European comic book style, with simple, expressive line work and really nice coloring (these are pretty much the first two things I think about when someone says European Comics). It’s packed with a thousand little stories that maybe tell us more about an American’s viewpoint on Israel than Israel itself, in all its historical and political turmoil. But I like the frankness that Glidden gave when describing the outcome of the book while at the TCAF panel (at the risk of seeming “wishy-washy”), when she said that this place became real when she traveled there, and the people in it became human beings. While I may not agree with Sarah on her political conclusions (and I’ve yet to see, as I’ve yet to finish the book!), it hardly seems relevant when we’re talking about a work of art that is depicting a personal experience.
A.D. NEW ORLEANS by Josh Neufeld – This book has been on my list to pick up for some time, and it was a pleasure to share a stage with Josh and talk to him about this project. I’ve yet to fully pinpoint my thoughts on this, but there is something to be said about a writer’s perception of an experience, and a visualist’s perception of the same thing. Neufeld seems to pick up on details of the Hurricane Katrina disaster that go missing in other accounts–and it’s not just a matter of mainstream vs. independent media. The wreckage, the crowds, the sweat, the loss of cherished items… all pulls at you differently when you are immediately able to absorb the information through a drawn depiction, without the filter or process of language. I particularly like the variety of people interviewed and their respective color palettes in the book’s pages. This will be a great one to finally read cover to cover.
I also got two other books that were illustrated by Josh Neufeld – The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media, and Stowaway, written by Tori Marlan. Both works of comic journalism, although entirely different.
BEST OF ENEMIES by Jean-Pierre Filiu et David – When I first eyed this book at TCAF last year, I’d already spent all my money. Good thing I have a better job this year. Best of Enemies explores the long and complex history of U.S.-Middle East relations. It is part 1 of 3: 1783-1953, and so incredibly fascinating. David B.’s illustrations are absolutely addictive; despite history typically being considered a dry subject matter, he ads enough art and style to the panels to keep even the subject’s most un-enthused reading on. In my limited French comprehension, David had to tell me in English that he and Jean-Pierre, an historian and former diplomat, are busy working on the next book, despite their own crazy schedules traveling around the world. I look forward to reading this one, as well as the coming two.
THE HOMELAND DIRECTIVE by Robert Venditti and Mike Huddleston – One of the few works of fiction that I picked up over the weekend, this self-described ‘political thriller’ is available through Top Shelf Productions, one of my favorite publishers. I always worry about books that look like this one… I don’t want to read a comic book version of the Bourne Identity, although the plot to this one sounds a bit more like the BBC TV show, Utopia. What pushed me over the fence with this one was the attention to detail that I can see–the stylistic and color scheme differences in the artwork as the pages change scenes, the elaborate plot that all ties together at the end (according to the dude from Top Shelf…. who I believe, cause they’re usually believable). Great cover art, too. I will get to this one, albeit a little later than some of the others. Suspicion ensues….
HARVEY PEKAR’S CLEVELAND with art by Joseph Remnant – In hindsight I’m trying to remember the reason I purchased this comic. It may have been the incredibly detailed pen and ink cross-hatch artwork, or the wonderfully vivid content of working class history in the Midwest, or the introduction by Alan Moore. All are good takers; combined, they won me over. It looks like a great read that most people would greatly under estimate.
SEVEN STORIES PRESS at TCAF
Was so psyched to see Seven Stories Press –traditionally not a comics publisher–at TCAF this year. What a great addition to the exhibitors list. Tons of historical and political comics to choose from. I would place them as pretty much the only contenders to have stocked radical comics at the festival. Kudos to them coming and to TCAF for welcoming change and getting them on-board!
THE BEGINNING OF THE AMERICAN FALL by Stephanie McMillan – Yet another work of comics journalism, documenting the nature and relevance of the Occupy Movement in the U.S. This book was the 2012 winner of the RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights Journalism Award – not an award that I’m familiar with, but impressive nonetheless for a type of journalism not yet fully grasped. I am particularly interested in this because it is a political comic that isn’t afraid to take a side- it clearly sees its prerogative as educating a broader audience about the Occupy Movement and inciting a greater level of political participation in the world around us. Can’t wait to read.
AS THE WORLD BURNS by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan – Also at the Seven Stories Press table was this title, also one that I’d never heard of. This book teams McMillan up with notorious deep ecology activist Derrick Jensen to make satirical play on the impending environmental and ecological crises of out time. While it is fictional (perhaps allegorical?) it is undeniably meant to shock people at just how close we’re getting to a great collapse. Looking forward to the read.
PARECOMIC by Sean Michael Wilson and Carl Thompson – Also by Seven Stories Press, about Michael Albert and his development of Participatory Economics. I will probably pair this one up with another comic I plan to review about capitalist economics and see how many of you are still awake at the end. Introduction by Noam Chomsky. See, now you have to buy it.
CANADIAN POLITICAL COMICS at TCAF
If political comics can be construed as typical, then it is assumed that the great bulk of them at the festival would be from the U.S. Despite TCAF being a Canadian event, there’s just more of everything coming from the U.S. in comics. But to my delight I was able to find some great work available through Conundrum Press, a publisher based out of Nova Scotia.
THE HERO BOOK by Scott Waters – Not so much a graphic novel or comic as an illustrated memoir (it says that right on the cover), The Hero Book is an artistic yet journalistic look at the culture and psychology of Canadian soldiers. At least, that’s as far as I can tell. Sorry, I was too busy looking at the ABSOLUTELY JAW-DROPPING artwork to read any more than a couple of sentences. Holy shit, this book is beautiful. And from what I can tell, the content is right up my alley. Looking forward to the read.
CHIMO by David Collier – While dealing with the topic of Canadian soldiers like the work above, Chimo appears to be much more comic book-y. As a part of the Canadian Forces Artists Program (seriously, I was surprised as well to hear that such a thing existed), Collier actually went through basic training to be able to write this book. As far as I know, he was in his early 40’s at the time. Impressive, David! It makes drawing out 100 pages sound pretty damn easy!
PAUL JOINS THE SCOUTS by Michel Rabagliati – This book fascinates me. The folks at Conundrum described it to me as something from their ‘Young Adult’ section, but pointed out that it covers a lot of the FLQ crisis in Quebec during the 1970s. What an interesting combination! I love the idea of mixing political and non-political plot lines (isn’t that more like real life?). Paul is the author’s semi-autobiographical character, so it would appear that the work draws from a lot of first-hand experience. Looks like a great piece – can’t wait to pick it up.
Between May 9 – 11, political cartoonist Matt Bors will be in Toronto showcasing his new book, Life Begins At Incorporation: Cartoons and Essays. In addition to exhibiting his work at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) May 10 – 11 at the Toronto Reference Library, Bors will be presenting his work on Friday evening, May 10 at 7:30PM at the Toronto Comic Book Lounge.
Matt Bors is a nationally-syndicated political cartoonist, editor, and writer based in Portland, Oregon. In 2007 at the age of 23, he was the youngest nationally-syndicated cartoonist in the United States. Since then his work has graced the pages of WIRED Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, and The Nation.
Life Begins at Incorporation is Matt Bors’ second book. It received 170% funding on the website Kickstarter in 2012, and was released to funding backers and pre-orders in April 2013. It features cartoons and essays on a variety of topics, from gun control, women’s rights, and the environment to the Global War on Terror (a segment of Bors’ talk is devoted to his trip as a comics journalist to Afghanistan in 2010).
In 2012, Bors was both a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Editorial Cartooning and the first alternative-weekly cartoonist to win the Herblock Prize for Excellence in Cartooning. At a time when political cartooning is widely considered to be a ‘dying art’ by the journalism industry, Bors’ cartoons have received significant mainstream political traction. In 2012, one of his works was presented by U.S. Congressman John Larson during a house floor debate on the Affordable Care Act, while another piece about Osama Bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamden, was smuggled to him while he served as a detainee of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.
Bors is available to interview in-person during his stay in Toronto May 9-11, or by phone at the interviewer’s convenience.
Interested parties can find examples of his work and more information on his website, www.MattBors.com. A .PDF copy of Life Begins At Incorporation is available for review upon request.
“The Political Comics of Matt Bors,” is organized by the website Ad Astra Comix, which reviews, researches, promotes and distributes political and historical comic art.
What People Have Said of Bors’ Work
(Quotes From the Back Cover of Life Begins):
“Life Begins at Incorporation is equal parts maddening and hilarious. Matt Bors reminds us that in an unjust world, laughter is an absolute necessity. The only disappointment in this book is that despite my wishes to the contrary, ‘The Avenging Uterus’ is not in fact real.” – Jessica Valenti, founder of Feministing.com & author of The Purity Myth
“Bors embodies the highest virtues of political cartoonists: fearless, provocative satire and cutting, acerbic insights. He’s also unfailingly funny.” – Glenn Greenwald, columnist for The Guardian
“Able to eviscerate a target with a single panel. You never want to end up on the wrong side of his pen and ink!” – Markos Moulitsas, Publisher, Daily Kos
“Bors has the right stuff and then some.” – Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great
“A bunch of cunty liberal garbage.” – Person on the Internet
Title: Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt Written by: Chris Hedges, Joe Sacco Illustrations by: Joe Sacco Published: 2012 through Knopf Canada (a division of Random House Canada) List price: $29.95 CAD
Chris Hedges was trained to be a minister, and Joe Sacco is known to draw comics. Both, however, have made their strongest marks within the realm of journalism: Hedges as a foreign correspondent reporting from Central America, the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa. Joe Sacco made comics journalism a concrete category with works like Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde, The Fixer, and others.
It seems only natural that the two would work together. They have overlapped each other’s geographical locations of coverage on a few occasions, particularly with Israel/Palestine and areas in the Balkans. Both understand the complexity of what they investigate and the need for empirical as well as historical inquiry.
But what I find intriguing about Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is the way I see their previous work illuminate these pages to reveal a truly devastating picture of the state of America. Hedges draws on a treasure trove of historical events he has personally witnessed or painstakingly researched to show how the elite of the U.S.A. may not be as invincible as they think; Sacco’s trademark illustrations immediately recollect visions of a street in Gaza—and yet, I’m not looking at a street in Gaza here; I’m looking at a street in Camden New Jersey or Immokalee, Florida.
To be clear, the book is about a little more than destruction and revolt. Those two points are the focus of two separate chapters. Others include:
Days of Theft: Pine Ridge, South Dakota
Days of Seige: Camden, New Jersey
Days of Devastation: Welch, West Virginia
Days of Slavery: Immokalee, Florida
Days of Revolt: Liberty Square, New York
What is recounted in these pages isn’t sensationalism. Sensationalism would imply that truths were stretched, or quotes taken out of context. What it amounts to is a gallery of some of the worst places to live in the United States today—regions termed by Hedges to be “the sacrifice zones” of unfettered capitalist exploitation. And therein lies the fundamental trouble with DDDR which digs at you through your read of it: that is, from cover to cover, it’s all true.
Each chapter is an article written by Hedges, documenting their travels to a particular site. Locals are interviewed and are the subjects of most of Sacco’s illustrations in the book (his work is typically either a landscape for an area, or a person talking of their experiences.) Within this format, Hedges makes invaluable use of his time as a foreign correspondent, drawing on that experience to show how these regions are being treated much the same as third-world countries under foreign occupations, domestic dictatorships, or the suffocating yoke of international debt. This is contrasted with his written descriptions (and Sacco’s visuals) of the people who inhabit these areas: most are simple people whose definitions are blurred, sometimes completely overtaken by the hardship around them. Hedges and Sacco point out strength and sacrifice in those they interview, as much as they profile individuals who, understandably, in the words of Hedges, are “living lives in which tenderness and security are grabbed in desperate snatches.”
This work is truly a testament to those most voiceless in America today—from West Virginians dying of the coal industry’s carcinogenic air, to the millions of Latin Americans living a modern-day slavery Hell in the American South. Their stories are illuminated with Sacco’s artwork, and their finds profound historical, philosophical, even moral depth with Hedges’ words.
It will disgust and anger you, but it is a must-read.
Fellow Torontonians, I hope you’ll join us on Friday May 10 for an incredible presentation on political cartooning, political comics, comics journalism, and more at Ad Astra Comix’s first event: The Political Comics of Matt Bors. Matt will be in town for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) happening that weekend at the Toronto Reference Library, and to promote his new book, Life Begins at Incorporation.
Here is a copy of the poster we’ll be putting up beginning this week:
In conjunction with the event, Matt has agreed to have his book distro’d by Ad Astra Comix here in Canada, which is pretty exciting. So the event is also a launch for Ad Astra to begin actively distributing political comics!
I’m also extremely grateful to the kind folks at the Comic Book Lounge for inviting us into their space. It’s so nice to have comic shops that are not only supplying me with my next fix of comics, but also see themselves as an integral piece in an active and vibrant community- and Comic Book Lounge is an enthusiastic believer in this.
In addition to a presentation, where will be a book sale and signing, a bar lovingly stocked with local beer and wine, and free snacks. I can’t emphasize enough that there will be free snacks.
Titles: Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza Author: Joe Sacco Published: Palestine was originally published in comic book form in 1993, before being released as a full volume by Fantagraphics in 2001. Footnotes in Gaza was released in 2009 by Metropolitan Books
The downside of attempting to read timely political comics in order to write timely reviews is that you’re often pushing yourself to digest a lot of heavy material in a short period of time. I’ll be honest; it’s really difficult to be going back and forth from Gaza in my newsfeed to Footnotes in Gaza–which largely focuses on events from half a century ago. The idea that this reality is not only constant in that part of the world, but has more or less continued this way for five decades, is mind-boggling.
The first time I read Palestine was back in 2003, and I spent a good 2 months wading through the pages, studying the history and references, appreciating the attention to detail in the art (I had time to admire Joe’s artistic rendition of fabric the most–all of the middle-eastern apparel, I thought, from kufiyehs to shawls, seemed destined to be drawn).
This time around, after going through Palestine again, in addition to Sacco’s relatively new release, Footnotes in Gaza, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. Obviously, this isn’t the best thing you want to read in a review… I assure you, there’s a lesson to take in from this. Maybe it’s the combination of the books the real-time video I’m seeing of Gaza on Aljazeera and Russia Today. Maybe it’s the incinerating atmosphere on social media, where people dangle baited commentary like matches over their hot-headed opponents.
I’ll keep what I have to say relatively short. Frankly, this post is more about showing folks looking for political titles that there are comic resources out there for those looking for more information on Israel and Palestine –and as a veteran comics journalist, Joe Sacco is an excellent place to start. From there, I’d just assume that you’d rather spend your time reading those titles than reviews of them, right?
I will say this, with a special focus on those of you reading this who think a “comic interpretation” of Israel and Palestine is tantamount to insulting… quite the contrary. The irony is that Joe does not cynically summarize the arguments of those on the front lines of this conflict, as anyone with more than a mild opinion on the matter is guilty of doing at least once. In the times when the conflict heats up, our detailed portraits whittle away just when readers and viewers need them the most in our media… the Israeli who hates his government but can’t reconcile the ingrained notion that Jews constantly face an impending doom… the Palestinian who, in the words of author Norman Finklestein, must face the challenge of being both “principled and reasonable”, when that is essentially an impossible thing to do. More than anywhere else in the world, and with any other conflict, complexity here dissolves into a simplified belligerence. Israelis become crusaders for the ideals of the western world, or madmen screaming about terrorists. Palestinians become the front-line fighters in a global struggle against the forces of imperialism–or madmen screaming about Zionist snakes.
Of course, I have my opinions… but the irony is that Joe Sacco, a professional cartoonist, does not indulge our cynicism with these caricatures. In fact, as a comic journalist (a profession whose total validity gets challenged on the regular for him 2 decades into his work), he is perhaps more diligent than any other dispatcher in Palestine to portray an unedited picture. You won’t find anything like it in the political cartoons of your newspaper’s opinion section… nor on CNN or BBC, or Aljazeera.
As I finish writing this, the Telegraph reports that Israeli Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai, has vowed a Palestinian “Holocaust” as a result of the rockets fired by Hamas in Gaza. Yea, he just went there. I imagine that Joe Sacco began this project of documenting the lives of Palestinians because he felt we weren’t getting their story in the West. My response to that now, in 2012, is that we easily hear more about the situation of the Palestinians… and yet it doesn’t matter. Israel acts like a monster that no longer cares to hide it (see, I just KNEW I couldn’t get through this review without making a generalization), and the West supports them while pretending that their hands are tied.
Lastly, I come back to my own mental state right now, after reading these volumes. My lesson is, naturally, to not do what I just did. Take time to digest what you’re reading and looking at… and come to your conclusions in time. No cause is properly furthered by uneducated followers. The last thing the conflict needs are more caricatures.