A popular nonfiction graphic novel about Gaza, known for being a pioneer in the genre of “comics journalism”, has quickly gone back into production due to increased demand following the recent resurgence of the conflict.
Joe Sacco’s graphic novel, Palestine, was first published by American publisher Fantagraphics as a comic book 30 years ago. It was later released as a single volume by the same company and by Jonathan Cape in the UK in 2003.
Sacco, a journalist and cartoonist from Portland, Oregon, who is of Maltese and American descent, created the record of his travels around Gaza in 1991. The work has received numerous awards and is often used in university courses as an introduction to the conflict. In his introduction, Edward Said, a Palestinian American academic and critic, stated that Joe Sacco’s portrayal of the situation is unparalleled by anyone besides a few novelists and poets.
According to Gary Groth, the co-founder of Fantagraphics, demand for the book significantly increased after the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th and the subsequent bombing of Gaza.
He stated that our stock of thousands of copies sold out rapidly and we are currently in the process of printing more. The book has been ordered in larger quantities by retailers and wholesalers compared to previous times, suggesting that there is high demand for it from both consumers and retailers.
Sacco, aged 63, informed the Observer that upon his initial visit to the area in 1991, he made the decision to transition from journalism to comics. However, he discovered that his two skills intersected.
He originally planned to create a comic book about his travels in Palestine, but while there, his journalistic instincts took over and he began conducting interviews with people instead of just talking to them.
“I started approaching the subject in a more organized manner, attempting to comprehend the true structure of the occupation and its impact on Palestinians. The combination of comics and journalism occurred naturally. I did not have a predetermined concept of graphic journalism, I was creating it as I progressed.”
When it was first released in nine installments, this work was not fully appreciated, but it is now recognized as a masterpiece in its genre.
According to Groth, during that time, original graphic novels were not common and the book industry did not have a specific category for them. This led to confusion about the genre. He also mentioned that there were initially low sales because the majority of people shopping at comic stores were not interested in reading about the Palestinian situation; they were more focused on buying their regular X-Men comics.
Joe’s dedication to both journalism and the comics medium drove him to complete those nine issues, which are now widely recognized as an exceptional and empathetic masterpiece.
In the early 2000s, Sacco went back to Palestine to conduct research for his book Footnotes in Gaza. He noted that during his visit in the early 1990s, towards the end of the first intifada, things seemed dire, but upon his return 10 years later, the situation had worsened significantly.
It is clear that the amount of violence is at an extreme level, especially when compared to the situation in Ukraine. During the first intifada, when I was reporting on Palestine, approximately 1,200 Palestinians were killed over the course of a few years. However, in the small area of Gaza, that same number of casualties can occur in just two days.
Sacco is happy that the book is popular and reaching a different group of people – however, this is also accompanied by a feeling of sadness.
It is a sad indication of the ongoing tragedy of the Palestinians that the book still holds significance, but in some aspects, it also highlights their resilience and refusal to give up.
“I wish I could return, if only I had access. Fortunately, there are numerous courageous Palestinian journalists who are persevering in their work despite the dire circumstances and the serious risks to themselves and their loved ones. However, my primary motivation for wanting to go back to Gaza is to reunite with my friends. My sincere hope is that they will be able to endure these difficult times.”