Footnotes in Gaza

Publisher: Jonathan Cape

Comics and graphic books are now being regarded as worthy of being considered heavyweight literature, and Joe Sacco has played a big part in this. Having made a name for himself with his war reportage books Palestine and Safe Area: Gora De, he doesn't comprise or relent with his new offering: a comprehensive documentary of Rafah, a town at the southernmost tip of the Gaza Strip.

Draw in stark black and white with thick slabs of concrete blocks, the human heart at the centre of the work is beguiling and tragic. Buried deep in the archives is one bloody incident, in 1956, that left 111 Palestinian refugees dead, shot by Israeli soldiers. Seemingly a footnote to a long history of killing, that day in Rafah, either a cold-blooded massacre or dreadful mistake, reveals the competing truths that have come to define an intractable war.

Featuring interviews with survivors and town residents, delving between the lies and the spin, Sacco paints a town steeped in tragedy and trying hard to move on. There are light touches of humour and optimism, but the conflicts he shows, the circles of repeating histories, the effects of a single event on a people paint a bleak picture.

Joe Sacco is a gifted storyteller and his usage of comics as the medium makes the message more accessible but the circumstances no less complex. This isn't a highbrow non-fiction piece for the worthy, it's a story about the human condition, told with the biggest heart and the most worried brow.

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