An acclaimed non-fiction graphic novel about Gaza, a pioneer of “comic strip journalism,” has been hastily reprinted after growing demand since the conflict re-erupted two months ago.
Palestineby Joe Sacco, was originally published as a comic strip by the American publisher Fantagraphics 30 years ago, then published in a single volume by the company, and by Jonathan Cape in the United Kingdom in 2003.
It was created by Sacco, a Maltese American journalist and cartoonist from Portland, Oregon, as an account of his own travels around Gaza in 1991, and has since won numerous awards and been included in university courses as an introduction to the whole story. conflict. Edward Said, a Palestinian American scholar and critic, said in his introduction to the book: “With the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever captured this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco. »
Gary Groth, co-founder of Fantagraphics, said that after Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 and the subsequent bombing of Gaza, demand for the book exploded.
He said: “We quickly sold out of our inventory of several thousand copies and are now reprinting them. Retailers and wholesalers have begun ordering the book in much larger quantities than in the recent past, indicating that all links in the chain – consumers and retailers – are expressing demand for it.
Sacco, 63, told the Observer that during his first visit to the region in 1991, he had decided to swap journalism for comics, but he realized that his two talents collided.
He had intended to write and draw a comic strip based on his experiences traveling through Palestine, but “when I was there, my journalistic training kicked in and, more than just talking to people, I started interviewing them.
“I began to approach the subject more systematically, trying to understand the real structure of the occupation and its effects on Palestinians. The fusion of comics and journalism was therefore organic. I had no theory of graphic journalism. I was making it up as I went along.
Although it is now considered a masterpiece of the genre, when it was initially published in nine issues, no one knew what to make of it.
Groth said: “Original graphic novels were rare at the time and the book trade didn’t have a graphic novel category, so no one really knew what it was. He explained that initially sales were low because “very few people shopping at comic book stores wanted to learn about the plight of the Palestinians; they mainly went there to buy their weekly dose of X-Men comics.
“It was only Joe’s commitment to serious journalism and the comics form that drove him to complete these nine issues, which have since been recognized as a great, empathetic work of art.”
Sacco returned to Palestine in the early 2000s to research another book, Footnotes to Gaza. He said: “Things seemed very bad when I visited in the early 1990s at the end of the first Intifada, but things were much worse 10 years later.
“Now, obviously, the level of violence is of a magnitude that – if we’re talking about civilians – dwarfs what we’re seeing in Ukraine. During the first Intifada, when I was working on Palestine, perhaps 1,200 Palestinians were killed in a few years. Today, in the small Gaza Strip, this number of deaths is only a matter of two days. »
Sacco is happy that the book is in high demand and reaching a new audience – but this is tempered by sadness.
“That the book itself is still relevant today is a sad testament to the ongoing tragedy of the Palestinians – although, in a way, it is also a tribute to their courage, to their unwillingness to give in.
“I would go back if I could get in.” Fortunately, many courageous Palestinian journalists are doing exemplary work despite the appalling conditions and the very real danger to themselves and their families. But the main reason I would like to return to Gaza is to see my friends there. I hope they get through this.