Attn: Flog Faithful… posting might lessen a bit this week as we continue to navigate the brutal, nine-day convention gauntlet that is Stumptown, MoCCA and TCAF. To ease your cravings, we bring you an exclusive Flog! report from our Tobacco Road Correspondent Rob Clough. — Ed.
Joe Sacco gave a lecture and Q&A to an audience of about a hundred at Duke University on 4/24/2012. He said that this was probably the last time he was going to give this particular lecture on Comics Journalism. If you haven't seen it, Sacco gives an account of his working method by talking about the ways in which the comics page is an ideal construct for delivering multiple and often conflicting and contrasting forms of information. For example, in a page from Palestine, there's a heavy background emphasis on how rainy the weather was at the time and how uncomfortable that made everything. In each panel, you could see grey clouds following around Sacco and his friend and mud on their feet. Sacco noted that in prose, it's difficult to emphasize the constant nature of physical discomfort without being awkward. He said that you couldn't simply add the phrase "and there was mud on their feet" at the end of every sentence. Sacco repeatedly said how important accuracy is to him, from gettng the quotes right to trying to find out what a building or neighborhood might have looked like fifty years ago. For some aerial views that he didn't have access to (noting wryly that the governments of Egypt and Israel weren't about to grant him permission to fly over the settlements in Gaza), he simply used drafting skills and perspective to figure out what things would look like from above. Sacco also went into some detail about how he composes each page. On pages where there is violence or chaos, he favored a fractured panel arrangement where the reading order was made deliberately unclear for the reader, to reflect the chaos of the situation. On another such page, there was a spider-web of panels, where you could follow one character along one web to see what's happening with them, but the overall page had no set structure in terms of what order to read things in.
He talked about about how he represents himself in his comics, noting that he hides his eyes as a way of telling the reader that you're not getting every bit of info about him as a part of the story. He said that in choosing how he chooses to represent his experiences, he was conscious of how he affected the narrative, and more to the point, how the story affected him. When asked if he ever felt the urge to intervene or help in particular situations, he said that the works themselves were his form of intervention. Sacco told me that he's quite aware of other comics journalists operating, like Suzie Cagle, Dan Archer, Josh Neufeld, etc, though he wasn't necessarily an avid reader of anyone else in particular. I asked him about his feelings regarding the "embedded journalism" he did with the US military; he said that the experience is what you made of it, but that he didn't encounter a lot of grief in finding out things he was interested in. Similarly, he answered no when I asked him if his long-form journalistic works were a repudiation of the 24-hour, brief news cycle. He said that he depends on that news cycle to a certain extent and that it has its place. Instead, he said that he sees his work as a repudiation of shallow journalism.
Unsurprisingly, Sacco was warm and friendly with the long line of attendees who were having their books signed (many of which were provided by Duke's excellent Gothic Bookshop). He said that one reason why his touring is going to slow down is that he's going back into research and drawing mode. He has not one, but two books coming out this June. The first is Journalism, a collection of his short journalism stories that appeared in a variety of venues, and many of the stories were not published in the US. That one will be 208 pages. Also coming out is a book he's doing with Chris Hedges called Days Of Destruction, Days Of Revolt, which is about urban decay and the rise of a permanently doomed underclass in the US. Finally, he said that his current project involves research into Mesopotamia, partly because he had to get away from doing books about modern war zones. He said that he's going to work in aspects of his long-promised Gentleman's Guide To The Rolling Stones in the book. — ROB CLOUGH