Review: Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco

The Invisible History of Gaza


| January-February 2010


When Joe Sacco’s depictions of Palestinian life appeared in comic book form in 1993, Middle East reportage was the domain of newspaper and magazine correspondents.

Today Sacco’s painstaking portraits of war are revered by comics freaks and journalists alike. For Footnotes in Gaza, he took up residence in the towns of Rafah and Khan Younis, where savvy and tenacious guides walked him house to house, searching for eyewitnesses to an obscure episode in 1956 that he calls “seemingly the greatest massacre of Palestinians on Palestinian soil, if the U.N. figures of 275 are to be believed.”

To get his story, Sacco had to navigate the rubble and rhetoric of the history being written minute by minute in Gaza, and he draws all of it. The book feels as much like a masterful piece of history as it does a living, breathing textbook for aspiring war reporters.

Every page is electric. Faces contort with the pain of bullets or memories; architectural details from the present day and 1956 alike are impeccable. His narrative is fluid and embraces Gaza’s many ambiguities.

“Palestinians never seem to have the luxury of digesting one tragedy before the next one is upon them,” Sacco writes. “This episode hardly deserved to be thrown back on the pile of history.” There’s no chance of that now.