Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Reviews From Feb 2010 Verbal Magazine

Footnotes in Gaza

Joe Sacco

Jonathan Cape Ltd

The historical context of the situation in Gaza seems like an unlikely source of inspiration for a piece of graphic literature, but there have been several excellent books on the subject. Joe Sacco’s Palestine provided an interesting (if a trifle one sided) look at life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, presenting the daily struggles, humiliations and frustrations of the Palestinians living in the occupied territories. He returns to familiar ground with Footnotes in Gaza, a look at the small town of Rafah on the southern tip of the Gaza Strip. In 1956 a single bloody incident saw one hundred and eleven Palestinian refugees shot dead by Israeli soldiers. Sacco sets out to examine the conflicting truths surrounding this incident by immersing himself in daily life in Rafah, and trying to clear some fairly murky waters: was it a coldblooded massacre or was it a dreadful mistake?

As someone who is fairly naive to the political and historical situation in Gaza this book was a real eye opener. To present over 50 years worth of conflict, misery, and oppression in such a way could be off putting. However Sacco has a real gift through his artwork for humanising people who have committed some grisly act either in the name of their beliefs, or through following orders. Footnotes in Gaza provides a poignant snapshot of ordinary people trapped in desperate circumstances

The events depicted in Footnotes in Gaza should resonate strongly with the people of Northern Ireland, and the aftermath of that fateful day in 1957 clearly still affects the everyday life of the people of Rafah in a way that the residents of Claudy, the Bogside or the Shankill Road may sadly find all too familiar. Sacco is open and honest about not only the information he uncovers but the sources of this information, and his methodology. He presents his findings in an unbiased fashion and is typically able to avoid editorialising.

If nothing else Sacco has proven that the comic book can have a wealth of value above and beyond being an entertainment for children or idiots. This is less a graphic novel than one of the finest pieces of historical reportage I have ever had the pleasure to read. Absolutely astonishing.


Bryan Talbot

Jonathan Cape Ltd

During last year’s 2d Festival Bryan Talbot gave a very brief preview of the follow up book to Alice in Sunderland (a book described in Verbal issue 10 as being “....aware of how clever it is. Almost TOO clever “). It was a crowded room on a very hot day, and I wasn’t paying attention so only managed to catch two words: steampunk and badger. Intrigued by the prospects of the book I asked him to elaborate and he would offer only that the inspirations for Grandville included Arthur Conan Doyle, Quentin Tarintino and Rupert the Bear. I’m not afraid to tell you I’ve been looking forward to getting a look at this one.

Talbot has made a career out of turning out comics that have ridiculous premises, his run on 2000AD’s Nemesis the Warlock is well remembered by fans as being nuttier than squirrel cack, but this one really takes the biscuit. Grandville is set in a world where technology has taken a turn for the strange (think Blade Runner by way of Thomas the Tank Engine) and France is the leading world power. It is essentially a Victorian style detective novel except that the characters are the cast from The Wind in The Willows, and it’s full of scenes of graphic sex and violence. Let’s all stop and think about how bizarre that is for a moment. No matter what you are thinking of, it is not nearly as bizarre as this is. Okay? The lead character is Detective Inspector Lebrock of Scotland Yard, a badger who becomes embroiled in investigating a shadowy 9/11 style government cover up and who must work his way through the murky underworld of Grandville, a hellish reimagining of Paris.

Talbots art is as always superb, managing to be both simplistic and richly detailed at the same time. The books unusual settings aside this is a good old fashioned action-adventure comic that starts slowly and quickly builds up to a frantic pace from which it never slows down. Owing as much to Eagle and Dan Dare as it does to Pulp Fiction and Herge,

Talbot has managed an unthinkable task by exceeding the meagre expectations I had formed in June of last year. I had imagined a slightly outré tale about a naughty badger getting in an argument about a pound note. This is a full on AA Milne on steroids affair. Thumbs up