erasing clouds

Book Review: Notes from a Defeatist by Joe Sacco

by anna battista

Better known for works such as Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde, considered fine examples of "cartoon journalism" rather than simply graphic novels, Joe Sacco's new book is a sort of shambolic but terrific anthology of cartoons written and drawn before his first two masterpieces but never collected in book form before. Notes from a Defeatist opens with the short and autobiographical "Cartoon Genius", followed by "Eight Characters", an exhilarating, extremely funny and cynic gallery portraying eight men with bizarre names such as Edwin Smallcabbage or Alessio Easelsmear, all having to cope with their own absurd lives (check in particular the adventures of Zachary Mindbiscuit, the man who wants to change the world, but basically ends up starving his cat for a good cause).

For those of you who want to have even more fun, well, there are the adventures of Joe, 'cartoonist in residence', during a crazy punk band tour across Europe ("In the Company of Long Hair"), but if you want to read more works in "Palestine" style, then you should check "When Good Bombs Happen to Bad People" and "More Women, More Children, More Quickly." Both are basically about the use of airpower in relation to civilians: the latter contains Sacco's mother's experiences as a child living in Malta during the Italian and German aerial attacks in World War II, whereas the former focuses on three events in particular, the British bombing of Germany in 1940-45, the U.S. bombing of Japan in 1944-45 and the U.S. bombing of Libya in 1986. Towards the end of the book the readers will also find "How I Loved the War", a recount of a news addict Joe during the first Gulf War and three short comics that, though different from the drawing styles and themes of Sacco's other works, shine for his satirical verve.

As Sacco writes in the introduction to this anthology, "There's a few laughs in here, a few poignant moments. A little sex, a little rock'n'roll. A little autobiography, a little satire. A little war, a little politics," but what he's forgotten is that there's also some mighty talent here.


Issue 17, November 2003

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