Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Footnotes in Gaza

Ever since I picked up my first copy of Tintin, I have been hooked on graphic novels (or comic books - same thing really). I remember my mom not being entirely impressed since books with no pictures or drawings were and I suppose to many still are seen as much more intellectual. 

But drawings and photos have always made things that much more clear to me.

Hence my joy at discovering Joe Sacco's book, Footnotes in Gaza. Finally some of the mess of Palestine and Israel's real estate issues make slightly more sense to me.

For a time, I worked at a busy start up company that was meant to be the Youtube of current events and news stories. It never quite succeeded in this for reasons mostly relating to the personality involved. 

My job was to manage overseas video editors while re-encoding, organizing, and creating transcripts and headlines for the stories that would be sent in from various sources. Mostly it came from the Associated Press, Reuters, BBC, eventually CBC and then, as the company shrunk to just me in a large office with a computer and a phone, I ended up dealing with Fox News as well.

Stories from the middle east were always trickling in. The bombings and chaos that the big networks seemed to busy to care about would invariably be covered by Reuters and AP. 

And that is where I lost track of what was going on. 

Much like calculus in university, I came close to understanding what was going on, and then it would elude me. You'd think with all the news, I'd have it figured out. Largely I understood it as stated earlier; a tragic real estate misunderstanding that had been going on for a few thousand years. None of it seemed worth dying over. 

If this sounds callous of me, I should point out that by Thursday which always seemed to have an increase in bombings and other acts of cruelty, I would often hide in a bathroom stall and have a little cry. 

My brother once sent me a book about the middle east. It is a good one explaining the issues, but I have not been able to work my way through it despite many attempts. Too many acronyms. Too many footnotes.

Which brings me to this graphic novel... or perhaps graphic textbook/journalistic report. 

Sacco has a style that is easy to look at. Some artists tend towards more impressionistic renderings, but Sacco's does not. I never felt out of the story. The art is honest as is the journalism. 

And just like when I was little, the images make it easier to understand why the Gaza strip exists, what it is really about, and how awful the whole situation is. You don't get overly bogged down in different organizations and trying to remember names. (Though they are there as well). 

Joe Sacco tells the story of the 1956 massacre at Rafah of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers. Don't remember it? Yeah, me neither. In fact, never even heard of it.

I won't retell the story, except to say that I am continually perplexed over how a government formed of a people oppressed so utterly horribly in the second world war can bring themselves to do the very same thing to another oppressed people within 11 years of being set free is beyond my comprehension. 

It is a hard subject. Even a better understanding of it leads to more questions, but I highly recommend this book. Instead of getting bogged down in excuses, you instead see sad faces and the humanity rendered in beautiful drawings. It gives me the necessary background to maybe take another stab at that thick volume teasing me from the bookshelf.

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Thank you for visiting. I live in Vancouver now, but I've lived in other places too. I take photos and make short films about things and people. Please comment and be argumentative. It amuses me.

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