Art of the matter
Graphic journalist Joe Sacco reports news in a different way
Joe Sacco’s books about Bosnia and Palestine are currently making a big splash in the pool of international journalism. The graphic journalist, who spoke to a packed room at Chico State last week, spends months at a time in areas of conflict and writes graphic novels about people there and his experiences.
The books are entirely non-fictional but, unlike traditional reporters who aim to be objective, Sacco throws his views in.
“I don’t claim to be an objective witness,” Sacco said. “I have an opinion, and you’re going to hear it.”
Graphic novels are a literary form gaining in popularity since the success of films like V for Vendetta and Sin City, which were both adapted from graphic novels. Basically a big comic book, Sacco’s choice of medium for his journalistic exploits is a cross between an editorial cartoon and a short academic book.
To create his books, Sacco will live in a region and try to meet as many people as possible. Through interviews, sketches, pictures and his journal, he catalogs a massive amount of information and finds a story that speaks for the entire experience.
In journalism school, young starry-eyed future reporters listen to an old adage from the newspaper business: Show, don’t tell. The ability to put a reader in a moment using only words is the mark of an effective storyteller.
Sacco said that the major strength of using comics in journalism is that an artist can drop a person into a situation visually and doesn’t have to describe a scene in words.
Creating a graphic novel is similar to writing a book in the way it can provide the reader with more in-depth information than a standard news piece. Not to mention there aren’t any rules to follow or deadlines to meet.
Sacco received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon in 1981 but wanted to do something more than traditional reporting. He went on to work for Fantagraphics Books, where he published his first comic series called Yahoo. From there he went on to cover everything from politics, rock bands and even the daily life of a stripper.
He explained that he will stay in an area for months doing research for a book, bypassing press conferences that result in stories based on officially available information. The length of his stay gives him a better understanding of an environment and allows him to see events develop and how they affect people.
Sacco told stories of wild parties in the former Yugoslavia that he was lucky enough to get invited to—an example of how he makes friends with people who become his subjects. Hanging out with Bosnian soldiers at a bar 300 yards from the front line and watching people drunkenly rock out to new American music smuggled into the country is not a sight most journalists get to see.
“I can sort of follow my nose,” Sacco said. “If the story goes one way, I can follow it.”