Just before 2009 wrapped up, Joe Sacco's Footnotes In Gaza arrived, making an already great year for original graphic novels even better. Footnotes In Gaza is a 400 page hardcover graphic novel published by Metropolitan Books, written and drawn by comic book journalist Joe Sacco. This graphic novel along with Robert Crumb's The Book of Genesis Illustrated (a literal adaptation of that portion of the Bible, which I haven't read yet) really are in a class by themselves and in my educated opinion, would be at the top of anyone's top ten lists of the year as well as shoe-ins for best graphic novels of 2009 (although my favorite graphic novel of last year is still Logicomix).
Joe Sacco in Footnotes In Gaza, as with his previous graphic novels, Palestine, The Fixer, and Safe Area Gorazde (for which he won an Eisner), doesn't just examine the conflicts his graphic novels chronicle, he lives in those regions amongst the people to truly get the ground floor perspective. Anyone who is familiar with Joe Sacco's artwork can immediately see his attention to detail and how he immerses the reader into the environments his graphic novels are reporting upon, giving the reader of his books a perspective that they can't get from other media's coverage.
Joe Sacco returns to Palestine in Footnotes In Gaza specifically to examine / interview any people that are still alive (and actually remember) a conflict that took place in Rafah in 1956 (called The Suez Crisis) that left 111 Palestinian refugees dead, shot by Israeli soldiers. Many of the people Sacco interviews / talks to wonders why he wants to focus on this event in their past, when, as is mentioned repeatedly in Footnotes In Gaza, "events are continuing", but as Sacco explains, his hope is that if that 1956 incident is understood, it'll help people understand what is happening in Palestine and Israel today.
Following is a particularly strong passage from early in Footnotes In Gaza, in which Sacco conveys the difficulty that occurs when chronicling a "minor" incident / conflict in history:
"History can do without its footnotes. Footnotes are inessential at best: at worst they trip up the greater narrative. From time to time, as bolder more streamlined editions appear, history shakes off some footnotes altogether. And you can see why... history has its hands full. It can't help producing pages by the hour, by the minute."
One doesn't read a book like Footnotes In Gaza to be entertained, rather it is read with the hope that upon finishing it, that a clearer understanding is attained about the subject matter. Ultimately though, even though I thought Footnotes In Gaza was excellent in Sacco's cartooning ability and voice that makes the Palestinian people and their struggles and historic conflict with the Israelis people real and gives a context for the events that happened there in 1956 a framework I wasn't previously aware of, I still can't wrap my head around the horrible things (such as their back and forth suicide bombings that have killed countless men, women, and children and destruction of people's houses) that the Palestinian and Israeli people have been doing to each other for over fifty years now and I can't see how their differences will ever be resolved. So even though I don't totally understand the Palestinian / Israeli conflict (do they even understand it?), I'm grateful for Joe Sacco's Footnotes In Gaza for his determination that events in these countries and what's unfortunately still happening don't just get dismissed as footnotes within history.
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