Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The man who has proved — literally — that journalism is an art form

What a boon it must be to be a great reporter and an accomplished cartoonist. And what an honour it must be to be hailed as the pioneer of "comics journalism".

Have you heard of Joe Sacco, the journalist I am referring to? I hadn't, either, till I chanced upon his most recent creation in The Caravan. The January 2012 issue of the magazine has published an astonishing work of comics journalism in which Sacco tells the real — and tragic — stories of Dalit villagers in the Kushinagar district of Uttar Pradesh.

We learn from the brief profile in Caravan that Joe Sacco came to India with an assignment from a French magazine to produce a long-form feature on rural poverty.

The profile continues:

Over the past 20 years, he has pioneered an entirely new form of graphic storytelling, travelling into conflict zones as a journalist and then recreating them as a visual artist, producing a series of stand-alone reports and a handful of books widely regarded as masterpieces: Palestine, a narrative of his journeys and encounters in the Palestinian territories after the first Gulf War; Safe Area Gorazde, about the end of the Bosnian War; and Footnotes in Gaza, on the legacy of two long-forgotten massacres from the early years of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sacco turned his attention to India, he says, out of a desire to step back from war and conflict, and to test himself in a country where he had never worked. He decided to focus his attention on Uttar Pradesh, and set out — with the assistance of Piyush Srivastava, a Lucknow-based journalist — to gather the stories of poor Dalit villagers in Kushinagar district, along the border with Bihar.


Reading the comic gave me a better understanding of the issue of Dalit rights than perhaps any article I have read in recent times. I was also captivated by Sacco's detailed drawings. I have been involved with journalism for more than 30 years and I have seen nothing like this before. Now all I can think of is how to lay my hands on Joe Sacco's other works.
  • Read "Kushinagar" in its entirety here.
PS (11.55 a.m., February 22): I have just ordered both Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza from Flipkart.

UPDATE (December 10, 2012): After reading both Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza, I became impatient to lay my hands on his magnum opus, Journalism, which was to be published later in the year. As soon as the book became available on Flipkart, which was last month, I bought a copy, which I am reading avidly now and which I'll place later in the college library. Details: Another work of art from the pioneer of comics journalism.

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