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Review: Journalism

Joe Sacco's comics tell hard-hitting news stories. Jairaj Singh writes.

books Updated: Dec 10, 2012 14:43 IST
Jairaj Singh

Joe Sacco
Random House
Rs. 499 pp 199

In the spring of 2010, a colleague on a reporting assignment to Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, happened to hear that a certain Joe Sacco was in town for a story.

Anyone who has followed the work of the American comic book reporter, known for his coverage of conflict-ridden Palestine and the atrocities of the war in Bosnia, would have wanted to know why Sacco was cooped up in a Gorakhpur hotel. Now, we know that Sacco was in Kushinagar to write about the lives of Dalits hanging "onto the planet by their fingernails".

In pursuit of a story on poverty in India, Sacco visited the huts of the "vanishing race" that survives on grains stolen from rat holes. Kushinagar features alongside other short pieces of reportage on crises across the world. For those who haven't read his work, Journalism makes an arresting case for comic books to tell a hard-hitting news story.

The style works: it helps numb the gore, adds historical perspective to memory, gives voice to the unheard, and anonymity to the unforgiven. In all his stories, Sacco remains the gawky Westerner with spectacles but no eyes, who makes his sympathies clear.

Yet, no matter how bleak the situation, Sacco's view remains neutral, inquisitive and satirical. Many complain that his style hasn't changed over the years; his drawings remain monochrome, detailed and outlined with dark felt lines. Almost everyone looks ugly, while the landscape is beautiful and intricate. A few pages in, you forget all this, and get sucked in by the story.