Joe Sacco nails down comic credentials in Journalism

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Review by ReadTheSpirit
Editor David Crumm

“Show me!” In this YouTube era of media, that’s increasingly the demand from an information-hungry public. Newspapers and magazines surviving today seem to put more effort into photos and videos than they do into prose reporting. Clearly, pioneering comic book journalist Joe Sacco has lived long enough to smile at the twists of history that are heading in his direction. Images rule!

What’s more—Comics rule! Even the classics are coming back. Are you a fan of Walt Kelly’s Pogo? The entire run is coming back as a multi-volume series. Amazon already is listing the September release of Pogo: Bona Fide Balderdash (Part 2 in the new series).

The new Avengers movie from Walt Disney already is No. 3 on the Worldwide All-Time Box Office list compiled by the Internet Movie DataBase. The top 25 films on that list include movies featuring Spider-Man, Shrek, the Ice Age animals, Transformers, the Lion King, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Lord of the Rings. The No. 1 and No. 2 movies on the list are Avatar and Titanic. Clearly, the list is dominated by fantasy, comic heroes and cartoons.

Major publishers are aware of this trend! For example, check out W.W. Norton and Co.’s list of upcoming titles for 2012-2013. The latest Norton catalog includes a long-awaited new graphic novel by James Vance and Dan E. Burr, On the Ropes, set among performers in a Depression Era circus. The original graphic novel in this series, Kings in Disguise, garnered high praise for its tough tale of truly dark chapters in Depression-era history. Plus, Norton is bringing out a gorgeous hardback edition of Drawn Together: The Collected Works of R. and A. Crumb, a look at the artistic and real-life collaborations of Aline and R. Crumb. (All of those links, above, take you to Amazon pages where you can pre-order these gems.)

That brings us to Joe Sacco, who was formally trained in journalism at the University of Oregon—but immediately began tearing up the journalism handbook to add new chapters about world news reporting. There’s not a writer whose body of work is better described as “love him or hate him” in terms of public reception. To begin with, a lot of traditional journalists shook their heads when Sacco began tackling such hot-button stories as injustices in Palestine and the Bosnian War. Turning life-and-death journalism into comics!?! Then, even when readers began to give Sacco the benefit of the doubt in using comics to report the news, there were his stories themselves. Hand a copy of his epic work, Palestine, to a room full of people who really care about Israel and Palestine—and they soon will be ripping pages out of the book as they argue over its contents. That’s despite the fact that it won the American Book Award in 1996.


Just as Sacco produces non-traditional journalism, you are reading a non-traditional book review of his latest release, called simply: Journalism. At long last, just as Pogo is coming out in lavish hardback editions, Sacco’s shorter works of comic journalism over the years have been collected into a single hardback volume. Sacco has written a fresh Preface to this volume and it includes a fascinating, transparent description of his standards for comic journalism. He’s clear in arguing that this is a serious-minded, legitimate approach to reporting the news. Yes, he admits, the comic medium adds the bias of the individual artist’s drawing style to the factual reporting—but then, so does video editing in the slick new online video reports we are seeing from newspapers these days.

Click the cover to jump to Amazon.If you haven’t been following the explosion of comics as a new international language—from domination of the movie industry to the widespread revivals of classic comics—then check out Joe Sacco to see the potency of this movement. Sacco proves this isn’t merely nostalgia. This is a new non-fiction medium emerging on a global scale. Sure, Vance and Burr are producing a series of “graphic novels,” still carrying the label of fiction, but rest assured: For their readers, they are writing the history of the American Depression. That’s serious stuff. Yes, you may want to collect the Pogo reprints. We are big fans of Pogo at ReadTheSpirit. Yes, you may enjoy the mega-success of the Avengers and other comic super heroes.

But don’t miss Sacco’s work, because he is poking a sharply pointed pen into the red-hot nexus of global news media—and he is suggesting that the future may belong to budding Woodwards and Bernsteins who can literally set the scene for readers … by drawing it.

Here at ReadTheSpirit in the year ahead, Pssst! We have plans to join this trend in publishing. We are planning, now, to produce our own first comic book on the urgent issue of … Well, stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit. We’ll report that news in coming months. For now, order a copy of Journalism. (And, sure, pick up a copy of Pogo while you’re at it.

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Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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