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Joe Sacco

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Page 45 Review by Jonathan

"Somebody ordered it, somebody did it, and somebody tolerated it. And all are guilty."

Essentially a collection of all the shorter journalism comics Sacco has done for various publications like Time Magazine and also anthologies such as I LIVE HERE over the years, so you may well have come across some or all of it before in various forms, particularly if you are a fan. However, it is also an ideal Sacco primer for those unfamiliar with his work, because it covers so many areas of conflict he's reported on, be it outright warzones such as Chechnya, also less militarily intense conflicts, though certainly not emotionally so, such as the Israeli-Palestinian one, down to his reflections upon the efficacy, or lack thereof, of international war crime trials at the Hague, through to the effects of the influx of African migrants onto the small island of Malta. The latter situation obviously being close to Sacco's heart, Malta being his birthplace.

Sacco throws in a quote from a celebrated British journalist in concluding during his own foreword which is intentionally rather revealing about his own sensibilities and reasons for pursuing this particular aspect of comics which is, "I always say that reporters should be neutral and unbiased on the side of those who suffer." That certainly comes across in the most straightforward reportage pieces on Chechnya and Palestine, and fair play to him because anything which helps raise awareness of the plight of those suffering, either directly or indirectly, at the hands of the idiots responsible for these conflicts is most assuredly a good thing.

The great thing about Sacco, though, is he is a journalist first and foremost, not merely someone who is attempting to highlight particular plights through his illustrative abilities, so consequently when he's embedded with US forces in Iraq, you therefore get a fascinating insight into the somewhat monotonous daily life of a typical grunt, charged with ensuring a particular strip of road remains IED-free.

But I do like how he isn't afraid to make it clear, in some circumstances, what his own thoughts on a given subject are. For example, with respect to the (still ongoing) war crime trials pertaining to the Balkan conflict, clearly considerably more crimes were committed than it would ever be possible to realistically bring to court, but he does find it rather troubling that there seems to be far more emphasis on nailing a few big names, instead of actually bringing as many criminals to book as possible. Plus neither do the Western governments and their lamentable inactivity in dealing with the conflict quickly enough escape his ire. The quote he uses from a Bosnian lawyer, which I opened with, who survived the siege of Sarajevo is particularly telling.

I think my favourite piece, though, is the one on the influx of migrants onto Malta, simply because here, he clearly can see the argument from both sides. That of the Africans desperate to escape grinding poverty, but also the Maltese whose society is being irrevocably changed at an extremely rapid pace. It neatly sums up the problem of modern global inequalities in microcosm and the absolute impossibilities and impracticalities of current attempts by the EU to deal with illegal economic migrants from the African continent.

It's handled with sensitivity but he manages to convey the real anger felt on both sides: the Africans at their treatment upon arrival, simply put straight into detention for up to a year, and the Maltese at the problems their sudden explosion in the population of non-Maltese on their tiny island is causing. It's very clear from Sacco's excellent piece that tension and friction is building considerably on both sides, which is inevitably going to come a head at some point in the not too distant future, one suspects. It's thought provoking stuff, and one of his best for me. I would defy anyone to read it and not come away glad they're not one of the people trying to come up with a solution to the problem. I'm the first one to think that all politicians are power-mad ego-maniacs, but to try to actually get yourself elected into jobs where you have to solve intractable problems like this clearly proves they have to be masochists too!

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