In his introduction to Journalism, comics-journalist Joe Sacco makes it clear that while objectivity might be the “Holy of Holies” in American journalism, the medium of comics is, by nature, a subjective form. While he may be able to capture his interpretation of events and interviews in his drawings, the objective truth must necessarily be filtered through his interpretation. What use then, is this watered down version of journalism? Where is the integrity, or the veracity?

This collection of war and strife reporting from the last decade, presented through the medium of comics, is just as gut-wrenching, emotional, and poignant as any traditional long-form reporting. The lynchpin here is the combination of professionalism and frankness through which these stories are recounted. Sacco is as skilled a reporter as any who would put only words to paper; Sacco breathes truth into his subjects through the wrinkled, exasperated faces of those who were unfortunate enough to be caught up in the horrors and insanity of modern war.

Sacco frequently assumes the role of a character in his own stories; he often portrays himself in caricature, as opposed to the more lifelike and realistic subjects of his interviews. This choice serves to separate himself ever so slightly from the action; his expression (and perhaps by extension, his subjectivity) is masked by the blank, white discs of his glasses. His subjects, on the other hand, are portrayed with an honesty that is both brutal and poetic. Their pinched faces express with soul-crushing ease the grueling injustice of innocents dragged into conflict, whether ethnic, sectarian or otherwise. These are the casualties of man’s unbearable arrogance and petty strife, given form, voice, and expression through Sacco’s meticulous lines and cross-hatch. The same level of detail to given to the depiction of the environments; every stitch in a wallet, each individual sack of flour in a warehouse, and all of the separate rocks in a pile of rubble contribute to the reality of these events and locations as Sacco observed them.

Through this work, Sacco achieves a truth that transcends objectivity. Whether they are displaced Chechen families, Iraqi Army trainees, or African refugees, their raw emotion is laid bare for the reader in vivid detail. This work is a fantastic option for adults who might not otherwise have given a graphic novel a chance to move them in ways that they might find surprising. As a work of journalism, this book is without reproach. As a work of graphic non-fiction, this book surely has the ability to convince even the most reluctant of readers that there is truth and power in words and pictures.

by Joe Sacco
Art by Joe Sacco
ISBN: 9780805097931
Henry Holt and Company, 2012

  • Garrett Gottschalk

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Garrett Gottschalk is an adult reference librarian at the Elmwood Park Public Library, Chicagoland, Illinois. He grew up on the great plains of Kansas, where he enjoyed subscriptions to Captain America, Thor, and Mad Magazine. After a fantasy detour during high school, he re-discovered comics of all flavors in college, and he currently spends his workdays ordering and promoting graphic novels (and music, video games, assorted non-fiction, etc) for the library, among other programming, outreach, and educational activities. Besides reading comics, Garrett enjoys spending time with his amazing wife, brewing and drinking beer, getting out of the country once in a while, gaming, rock shows, and organizing tabletop RPGing in Chicago as a volunteer community representative for Paizo Publishing. His mustache is a labor of love, and has been with him in spirit his entire life.

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