Joe Sacco's comics journalism

First aired on Day 6 (30/6/12)

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Joe Sacco is a comics journalist extraordinaire. He's won a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Eisner Award, an American Book Award and a Ridenhour Book Prize for his work. His latest book -- his eighth -- is a collection of his short-form comics reporting, called Journalism. It includes a decade of stories from around the world: the war crimes trials in The Hague, conflict in the Palestinian Territories, the wars in Chechnya and Iraq, the refugee crisis in his native country of Malta, and his experiences among the untouchables in India.

Sacco believes that telling these stories in the comic form gives the story a new, unexpected dimension. And in the age of the internet, when media options seem endless, he sees this as an advantage. "What makes magazines special is the visual material," he explained to Day 6 host Brent Bambury. "People are looking for new ways to tell the same stories."

By using comics, Sacco can add a subjective, personal element to the stories he tells. "You cannot get away from the tension between what is an accurate quote, for example, and the drawing beneath it, which might subjectively show that person's experiences," he said. But he believes that as long as he brings a discerning eye to the story and does his best to remain as objective as possible, this extra dimension is an asset to his work, not a hindrance. "Honest reporting requires you to tell the full story," regardless of medium.

Sacco works like a regular journalist. He uses a camera to capture images, and uses them to reference when he's drawing later. "[I] engage with them like a human being rather than sit in a corner and sketch." But after years of experience, he's realized that the best stories actually come from the moments between interviews. "As soon as the conversation or the episode is done, I will go to the side of the road and scribble down a bunch of notes that I will put down in my journal that night."

Sacco takes pride in telling the stories not often seen in mainstream reporting. He strives to be objective, but also recognizes that acknowledging his place as a reporter within the story can achieve powerful results. For example, when he was in the refugee camps in Bosnia, he found himself not only being an eye for the rest of the world but also serving as a communication outlet for the refugees. "When people realized I could travel back and forth on a road they couldn't travel, they were constantly giving me letters and packages to take to their relatives," he said. "If I wrote that in an impersonal way it simply wouldn't have the emotional impact it should have. I cannot pretend that that sort of thing doesn't happen."

After spending years in war zones, Sacco is ready for his next big challenge: capturing human nature in his work. He's spent decades unearthing the "what." Now he wants to focus on the "why." "When you're drawing people committing atrocities you really begin to wonder about psychology," he said. "[I] am wondering if I can bring that to my work somehow."

Below is an excerpt from Journalism titled "The Hague". Click on each image to read it in full-size.


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