Thursday, January 14, 2010

Author Event: Joe Sacco

Last night at the town hall here in Seattle, I attended an author discussion/book signing with Joe Sacco. (Author of Palestine, my favorite graphic novel of '09). Sacco started the night off with a presentation of his new work, a graphic novel called Footnotes From Gaza.

During his presentation, Sacco described how some of the pages were put together, while discussing the nature of the research he needed to do to get the information which the reader sees on the page. Sacco essentially gets his information from three sources: from UN archives both here in the U.S. and in Israel, newspaper articles, and from interviews with actual witnesses who remember the event. Sacco then uses these three streams of information to parcel out what he feels best represents the truth of the actual situation he is reporting on the page. This was interesting to me, as I have always wondered how he goes about constructing his works. As for much of the artwork, Sacco uses photographs from UN archives and other sources to create the panels.

Sacco's nuts and bolts descriptions of how he goes about his work proved to be the most interesting aspect of the evening for me. His presentation was brief, but I think the experience, for those in attendance, will enhance the reading of his new book.

After the presentation, there was a question/answer portion, where audience members could ask Sacco questions. Two highlights I'll mention here were when one person asked him about the challenge of documenting history, and the present in a comic book, versus doing it on screen in a documentary. Sacco responded that in the comic medium, the adjustment from present to the past is easier because the drawing can look the same from a panel set in the present to one set in the past, and the eyes and brain of the reader can easily make that visual and mental transition, where as in a documentary film, it is often hard to make that jump, and it often requires changes in the lighting, set, clothing and so on. I liked this description, as I feel Sacco uses the art aspect of the comic medium well to tell his story, and have it flow seamlessly, something not as easily achieved if a person were to attempt the same in a documentary style film.

The second highlight from this portion of the evening came when an Egyptian Arab man came up to the microphone and expressed his frustration with U.S. policy in the Israel/Palestine region. His statements were in context to some of the other questions Sacco had been asked about U.S. activity in that region and what direction Sacco thought things were heading there as well, and the man expressed his concerns on a more intimate level as one who perhaps has felt the effects of U.S. involvement in that region. The man spoke with conviction about his point of view, and his opinion of where things were going in that region were met with a very negative reaction from the crowd. Despite my seat near the front of the auditorium, I witnessed several groups of people, (mostly white) leave the room as he spoke. I could be wrong here, but I thought it was quite silly and also sad that because an Arab man speaks his opinion, white people left the room because of fears and prejudices that surround Arab males these days. In credit to Joe Sacco, he handled the situation well, politely listening to the man, and responding with an "Let's hope not, let's hope not." As the man predicted more troubles and strife in that region.

Often when I go to author events, I am left with the feeling that the author has somehow let me down or that the person has somehow failed to live up in real life to the person I imagine them to be when I am reading his/her work. There is a good chance this is more a personal failing on my part than on the author's, but regardless, it happens. Sacco is an interesting person, and through his work I have learned, and my life has been enriched, but I must have expected more from the man. I don't want anyone to take that in the wrong way however, as Sacco still deserves much credit for his work, and I am grateful for how his work has enriched my life. As a person he deserves credit for the effort he puts into his art and for the way he documents the lives of people in the areas he visits. In this instance though, Sacco failed to inspire me as a person in the same way that he inspires me with his work. There wasn't a specific instance I can point to that made me feel this way, I think I expected to see more acknowledgment on his part of how his art can effect and inspire people to create change. In some ways I just got the feeling he was there simply to sell books. Maybe this just wasn't the proper setting for Sacco to be inspiring. All in all it was an interesting and entertaining evening.

I expect to be reading more of Sacco's work in the future, so look for a Safe Area Gorazde review sometime in the future.

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