Monday, October 08, 2012

reading Joe Sacco (Palestine)

I am reading Palestine and I turn the page and suddenly...

There it is, I've hit the rapids again.  I attempt to take in the whole page quickly to find the safe route through the chaos.  There it is, swishing through the middle, past a panel that is really a whirlpool of five panels.  Although boxes are used, not a single line is laid horizontally.  There seems to be a fear of the horizontal line in the author.  The rapids have tamed again by the next page, but it is still an extremely active page and still contains no horizontal lines.

This is the feel throughout the book, dynamic, active, in your face, dragging me down the streets of Palestine with the author kicking and screaming.  Oh, sure, somewhere buried in this book are a few pages that have a conventional layout.  More toward the end than the start, he seems to have gotten over the fear of horizontal lines at some point.  There's even a few in a solid grid, followed by a page with an even smaller grid.  That page is very rare, the rest is this.  Even when resting on one of many couches in a room in a refuge camp taking in yet more tea followed by coffee, it is clear that the rest is shallow and can only be brief.  Maybe it's the caffeine that makes even these pages walking through a museum churn.

Sacco in Palestine contrasts quite sharply with Guy Delisle in Jerusalem.  Where Delisle moves generally in circles of ex-pats, Sacco is enthusiastically seeking out any locals, generally in refugee camps, who will talk to him.  Delisle is sitting back and observing almost entirely, Sacco is out poking anything he can with a stick.  Delisle mentions some wrong committed against a Palestinian that you probably ought to know is just the tip of the iceberg, Sacco makes absolutely sure you know it is that tip, and a very small considering the block of ice still hidden below.  He is not above starting a list to point at all that is below.

Both report on themselves as well, but while Delisle ends up reporting on the arbitrary harassment he gets for having the nerve to go off to comics conventions he is invited to in Europe, which is rather extreme, and for wanting to sit somewhere and quietly draw, which apparently isn't quite the innocent action the rest of us take it for, and tours he takes directed by Israelis, one from a group of disgruntled soldiers and one by settlers; Sacco is reporting on how, as he seeks out stories from all who will talk to him, he is a bit of a vulture and the stories become repetitive.  He reports on breaking curfew and watching illegal movies and the mud puddles in winter and the limitations of refugee housing and lots and lots of hospitality, tea, more tea, and coffee, sitting by the heater and the food presented to guests to hide real circumstances and which he isn't shy about eating.  He has his own tour, too, of the refuge camp courtesy of UNRWA.

Oddly, I found that the myth of the empty land was most blatant in Delisle's book even though Sacco spends much more time dispelling it.  Today we celebrate our own myth of the empty land, although the day is still two days away, with the observance of Columbus Day commemorating the discovery of the new world.  We ignore that there were already all sorts of people already here and knowing of the land.  It was not empty, but we think about it as though it was.  There are no empty lands except Antarctica.  If there is a way of surviving somewhere, people have figured it out and are doing it.  In Delisle's tour guided by settlers, he is told that the land was barren before, a complete fabrication.  His character of himself mumbles how the ancient olive trees give witness that this is a lie, but not directly saying so.  Sacco, of course, seeks out those who were displaced, who had their houses destroyed and their farmlands and trees ruined, who made the land green before, to get their stories.  He also talks with those who are still trying to make the land green under too frequent harassment.

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