I can distinctly remember the time of my childhood from when I started to hear about the part of the world called Palestine. For many years, it was just the image of Yasser Arafat in his distinctive outfit and news about some peace talks and Nobel peace prizes. And when I started to be exposed to more US news channels like CNN and Hollywood movies, I started to hear about Israel and a succession of US presidents wanting to bring peace to the region. Essentially, it seemed to me that these folks were unluckily caught in a shitty situation and they were screwed, possibly forever. This weekend, as I turned the pages through Joe Sacco’s highly acclaimed comics about his journey in Palestine, I realized my guess was right.

Palestine cannot be called a graphic novel, cause it is not fiction. It is the journal of 2 months in 1991-92 that Joe Sacco spent in the region, presented as a comic. Sacco, a US journalist, did a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem and the two Occupied Territories of West Bank and the tiny Gaza Strip. He travels around a lot in the region and visits many of the conflicted regions we keep hearing in the news like Ramallah, Gaza town and Rafah. He visits the biggest refugee camps, talks to people affected by the occupying Israeli forces. The comics give us a visual journey, the depraved conditions of the Arabs, the squalor of the refugee camps and the constant presence of the Israeli forces.

As you read through the pitiful tales of the affected people, the depressing tales start to all sound familiar and repeated. It is always goes like this. Sacco shows up in a new town or refugee camp. He befriends a taxi driver or a seller at the market or an educated fellow. He asks around and says he wants to visit the family of someone who was recently affected by Israeli settlers or police. He is taken to one such home. He is surrounded by the male folks of the family and friends and over cups of extremely sweet tea, always tea and more tea, their pour out their story of suffering. A son, a brother, a father, someone gets into a skirmish with a settler or police. Or he is suspected of being aligned with one of the four Arab factions like Fateh and is picked up. He is imprisoned for weeks or months or years without seeing a court in one of the horrid prison camps. Or he is tortured, what Israelis called moderate pressure, and wounded or killed after that. One such torture killing led to the Intifada in 1987 and since then the Israelis have been careful to impose constant curfews and drop off the dead to their families in the middle of the night for a quick and quiet burial under the watch of their Uzis. And on and on it goes, these tales of woe. Young men having grown up under the constant glare of Israeli watch towers and barb wire see no future for themselves other than joining up one of the four Islamic factions that reap the youth for their own benefit. They spend their lives glaring down Israeili forces, throwing stones at their jeeps, an occasional killing of an Israeli settler, followed by retaliation by the Israelis, leading to more bile and on and on. Like I said before, I see no hope.

This book has a moving introduction by Edward Said that should not be missed. The comic itself is beautifully drawn. Especially the sad faces of the men, mothers and children will stick in my mind for a long time. We get to vividly experience what people in the West Bank and Gaza are or were enduring in 1991 on a daily basis. We get to hear the Israeli side of the argument in the last of the 8 chapters. Interspersed in between the stories of the Palestine victims we also get to learn small bits about the history of Israel and Palestine and how this land ended up in so much contention. While I have no doubt in saying this is a good book, it again falls victim to a crime I repeatedly witness US authors commit: giving the reader every last numbing bit of his or her experience in a foreign country. Instead of using a few representative refugee stories and experiences, Sacco hammers us with every single person and every single story and every single experience he had in 2 months. While this might have been digestible in the 8 separate volumes this was initially published as, it is unbearable in the combined book it is published now as. Other than this one nitpick, Palestine is a good book about the plight of a people under the longest military occupation in modern history.

Rating: 3

ISBN: 0224069829


Flight: Volume One

Consider my surprise on finding all volumes of the Flight series one evening at a branch of the Singapore Public Library! Flight is an anthology of comic works by creative young artists that is edited by Kazu Kibuishi. He is famous for his Copper series which I am familiar with. Published in 2004, Flight: Volume One brings together 22 creations from young independent artists, some of them brilliant in their vision and artwork, all loosely based on the theme of flight.

A couple of works which I loved in this volume are by Kazu Kibuishi and Neil Babra. Copper: The Maiden Voyage is by Kazu himself, filled with his trademark characters Copper and his talking dog Fred. Living in their dream world, which will seem surprisingly familiar to anyone who had a childhood, they build their first plane and attempt flight. Taj Mahal by Neil Babra attempts a different take on the flight theme. The protagonist is an Indian who returns home from America and we see a different India through his prism.

Flight: Volume One was a good enough compilation of comics that I am now interested to read the rest of the series! 🙂

Tintin In The Congo

Tintin In The Congo is the second book in the original Tintin series. Tintin and Snowy set off on an adventure to the (then) Belgian colony of Congo in Africa. They travel by ship and in Congo take the help of a African boy named Coco. Many times in their adventures and hunts in the bush, they are harmed by a thief. Later, they find out that he was sent to kill him, so that his boss (Chicago mafia) can profit from the diamond business in Congo.

Not much of the sophistication of the later Tintin comics is seen in this one. The drawings are in black-n-white. Tintin and Snowy have started to look much like their later selves. The book is filled with characters and names stereotypical of the colonial times and slave trading. It might come off as racist today, but one should remember the time that this book was created. Tintin In The Congo is only for the diehard Tintin fan.

Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets

Yours truly is a big Tintin fan. However, I had not read 2 rare issues – Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets and Tintin In The Congo. Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets is the first Tintin comic. Compared to the extremely refined art in the later Tintin comics, the art here is amateurish and in black-n-white. The story (I guess) is aimed at children, since it is full of gags and not serious. Tintin, the Belgian reporter sets off to Russia to see the how the Communist regime is doing. The Soviet secret police try to kill him many times, but he escapes all the attempts. He discovers that the Russians are actually dying of hunger, while the Russian propaganda just shows off that they are doing well to the outside world. Not much of an adventure there! Tintin looks a bit fat and grubby, Snowy talks and its all funny! Not to be missed for the nostalgic value.