Altogether more than a footnote: reviewing Joe Sacco's new graphic novel, "Footnotes in Gaza"

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The first thing that comes to mind when holding graphic novelist and journalist Joe Sacco’s new book, “Footnotes in Gaza,” is the colossal amount of work that went into it. Not only is this pen-and-ink graphic novel almost 400 pages long, the subject too is heavy: The Israeli military’s massacre of Palestinian civilians in Khan Younis and Rafah (Gaza), during the 1956 Suez Crisis. The Malta-born American researched and reported on the subject for seven years, making two extended trips to Gaza – where he was often under fire from weapons paid for with his tax dollars.

Sacco, who has written and illustrated six graphic novels, is best known for his “Palestine,” penned after spending two months in the Occupied Territories in 1991 and 1992. It was not an immediate success, selling poorly when it first appeared as a comic series. After the publica­tion of Sacco’s subsequent gra­phic novel – “Safe Area Goraz­de,” which follows the war in Eastern Bosnia from 1992-95 – the “Palestine” series was compiled into book form in 2002. It went on to attain tremendous success, winning the American Book Award in 1996 and selling 60,000 copies in the US alone.

Edward Said, who wrote the introduction to the complete edition of “Palestine” said: “With the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever rendered this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco.”

“It was a surprise to me,” Sacco said in a telephone interview from his home in Portland, Oregon. “If you want to explain its success, I think it’s perhaps because it was addressing the occupation on a human level … Slowly there’s been a shift in the American perception of what’s going on in the Middle East but it’s been very slow and probably it hasn’t come as far as it needs to. But comic books are an easy entrée into this kind of thing.”

It was because he felt frustrated by the lack of objective reporting on the Middle East that Sacco decided to go see for himself in 1991. With a degree in journalism and already established as a cartoonist, Sacco felt his instincts as a reporter kick in once on location. Perhaps this experience cemented his unique blend of punctilious reporting and personal narrative...

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