Reading Review: Footnotes In Gaza by Joe Sacco

Gaza needs no introduction. It’s been an ever present conflict zone for generations upon generations of people. It’s a conflict that I’ve only begun scratching the surface with and I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the full picture. I’ve been doing my best to seek sources of writing that show personal stories from the conflict to gain snapshots of how the struggle and on-going war affects those involved.

I stumbled across Joe Sacco’s Footnotes In Gaza after getting into graphic novels and quickly learnt that he’s one of the pioneers in a genre of war reportage comics. Something you could be sceptical of, as cartoons are our resource of satire and escapism, but after reading this graphic novel, it’s possibly one of the sharpest ways I’ve seen in terms of documenting a history of conflict.

Joe Sacco sets off to investigate two massacres that occur in the Gaza Strip in November 1956. He’s trying to find out information about Khan Younis and Rafah, which are the two sites for the incidents which happened during the Suez Crisis. Sacco’s premise is that these incidents have become footnotes in the tragic history of Gaza and he is working to document a narrative thread as close to the truth as possible.

The graphic novel form fits this exploration well as it allows Sacco to leap time and interviewee per panel, allowing the reader to keep a detailed track of events as Sacco learns about them. A recurring challenge that Sacco meets is the fragility of memory. As Gaza is such an ongoing site of crisis and war, the interviewees he finds sometimes get their times mixed up and there is extensive sifting through the book where Sacco digs to the deep truths. For me, this book’s truth is how severe the conflict has been and how that has led to death being an everyday aspect for all people living within Gaza.

The art fits the means of the text. Sacco’s animations are comic book-esque but not to the degradation of the stories he is chasing. If anything, it serves as an element of detachment from the horrendous scenes. This is a good or bad thing.

It’s a harrowing read, but honest and works well to counter any potential bias of a writer exploring this conflict. Sacco lets every account stand for itself and openly states how he isn’t sure how close he gets in his report to the absolute truth. But Footnotes In Gaza works to capture these incidents in a forever-tome, that will help future readers come to this book and learn not to forget each and every incident that happens in a brutal conflict.

Read When: You want to learn more about Gaza history and its present state and you want to explore war reportage graphic novels as a form, or more generally, who the form of panelling/graphic novel narrative can be used in different ways.
Don’t Read When: You want something light, something conclusive.

Footnotes In Gaza, Joe Sacco, Metropolitan Books, 2010.

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