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Foreign correspondent as cartoonist: the marriage has traced a slow path inward from the margins, with Joe Sacco along for the whole of the ride. And make no mistake: his are red-blooded cartoons, brimming with the energy of outrage, given life by Sacco’s embedded reportage and first-hand interviews.

The trickier thing is to pin down where the resulting product falls within the constellation of “journalism”—and the title of Sacco’s anthology betrays his stance on the issue.

Journalism, released this year in paperback, surveys pockets of war and unrest which have attracted plenty of words but fewer pictures: the plodding dysfunction of the Balkan War Crimes trials at The Hague; the collective psychosis of Iraq within the walls. A poignant piece on Chechen IDPs living in Ingushetia fleshes out a mental picture in a way that statistics and executive summaries cannot.

The written content of these interviews is, ipso facto, no more penetrating than that of its orthodox journalistic kin; what is gained through this medium is a defense against the capacity of language to obfuscate and normalize what is awful. To lament the subjective truth of art is, for Sacco, to miss the point.

This article appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of Canadian Dimension (The Mining Issue: Taking on the Canadian Goliath).


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