Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Let us not today cast blame on the murderers. What can we say against their terrible hatred of us? For eight years now they have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza, and have watched how, before their very eyes, we have turned their lands and villages, where they and their forefathers previously dwelled, into our home. Beyond the border surges a sea of hatred and revenge. Revenge that looks towards the day when the calm will blunt our alertness... This is our choice: to be ready and armed, tough and harsh - or else the sword shall fall from our hands and our lives will be cut short." - Moshe Dayan, April 30th 1956
Over fifty years on, and little has changed except for the concrete. Early on there are eloquent visual contrasts between the fertility of the land the Palestinians once toiled, the arid yet still clean and beautiful Gaza Strip to which 200,000 of them fled in 1948, the neat rows of early cottages, and the packed sprawl of multi-storey breeze-block buildings complete with roof terraces, water towers... and a great deal of rubble. In fact, even if you were a fan of Joe's labour-intensive art before (and I was), you will be still be deeply impressed by this new level of intricacy on top of superb portraiture and the most solid of forms.
FOOTNOTES sees Sacco back in Palestine in search of its population's account of the Khan Younis killings in November 1956 and in the neighbouring town of Rafah around the same time, barely recorded at all in history's ever-evolving, relentless momentum. Not just the massacres themselves, either, but the events leading up to them in order to provide context and, for want of a better word, an 'explanation': the raids and retaliatory counter-strikes across the border by the Palestinian Fedayeen and the Israeli army; the ambitions of Jemal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt, to assume command of a pan-Arab state with himself as its leader; the collusion of Britain, France and Israel against Egypt in order to regain the Suez Canal; and the consequent war that left the people of Gaza trapped in the middle and paying the price. It's these people that Sacco seeks out to give them a voice they've not had until now, and to do so he listens to the Fedayeen themselves, widows and orphans now grown old, and the Wanted - those on the run from Israeli soldiers, changing homes daily and rarely sleeping in their own bed for more than an hour at a time. Overwhelmingly Joe let's them tell their story - to provide their own footnotes - and so will this reviewer. But Joe does have some sobering, wider reflections of his own about the interminable conflict:
"No one doubts who has the power and who is winning. The only question now is how far the Israelis will push their victory or how far the Palestinians can take their defeat."
Or, as one Palestinian says:
"What's a guy with a Kalashnikov going to do against an Apache [helicopter]?"
Undoubtedly one of my personal top-five graphic novels of the year, this isn't November's COMICBOOK OF THE MONTH purely because I think you need to want to read this sort of work to enjoy it, not have the material forced down your throat. I only took an interest in history after I left school. That it's a personal craving now doesn't mean it's everyone's. Also, there's the question of John Porcellino's new book this month, and Mark would never have forgiven me if Page 45's CBOTM was anything else! But this is history at its most eloquent, Sacco combining individuals' accounts seamlessly on the page whilst being profoundly eloquent himself.
"History can do without its footnotes. Footnotes are inessential at best: at worst they trip up the greater narrative. From time to time, as bolder, more streamlined editions appear, history shakes off some footnotes altogether. And you can see why... History has its hands full. It can't help producing pages by the hour, by the minute."
The future, if there's to be any hope in it, does need the details, however, and that's what Sacco provides:
"Another footnote, another page. Here, where the ink never dries."