Lifting Reportage to a Higher Level

The Comics Journalism of Joe Sacco

 University of Birmingham, UK, 2009.


Aiming to further explore what makes comics such a powerful medium, I presented a paper on Joe Sacco at the 24th annual conference of the Society for the Study of Narrative, held in Birmingham, UK. 

Sacco's comics journalism has been lauded by a wide audience including Edward Said, who wrote that “with the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever rendered the terrible state of affairs better”. Over the past two decades Sacco has travelled to intense conflict zones such as Palestine and wartime Bosnia and produced highly acclaimed accounts of his encounters.

In this paper I discussed Sacco’s work as a powerful demonstration of the unique narrative capability of the comic book medium, and its capacity to tell stories that are informative and objective as well as touchingly personal and emotional. My paper analysed the media-specificity of Sacco’s work and highlighted the particular narrative strengths comics makes available to journalistic practice. While building on current theoretical work on comics and journalism I also discussed the reception of Sacco’s work as an indication of how various audiences interpret his narratives.

By illustrating how Sacco constructs both partial yet informative journalistic narratives of specific events, as well as personal and emotional autobiographic journeys within the same texts, I demonstrated some of the unique artistic possibilities available to the practitioners of one of the most popular narrative media forms of 20th century.