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Joe Sacco is a talented graphic
artist best known for his works Palestine
Gorazde. (I have to confess I
haven't read these other works.) Notes
From a Defeatist collects work from 1986-1992. It is organized into eleven parts, which are not chronological,
but instead according to different themes.
Part Two, "Eight Characters," is all from 1987, except the
last couple of stories, which are from 1991 and 1992. Each story profiles a different loser character with a stupid
name, such as Oliver Limpdingle, Arnold Homecastle, or Stanton K.
Pragmatron. They are energetic and
angry, poking fun at modern life and the emptiness of people's
preoccupations. Sacco's drawing in
these is classic comic book exaggeration of features and slapstick humor. Part Four, "In the Company of Long
Hair," is a record of Sacco's experience touring Europe with a rock band
as their official artist/T-shirt seller.
As "true-life stories," it's more gripping and the drawing is
more inventive, although it still relies very much on the standard comic book
form. At 32 pages long, you start to
get to know the different characters better and you get a sense of the tensions
and camaraderie that develops through people staying in such close quarters for
However, the book really shows off
Sacco's talents when it comes to Part Five, "A Disgusting
Experience," and Part Seven, "When Good Bombs Happen to Bad
People." It is in these parts that
Sacco addresses political themes head-on, and his drawing style becomes far
more innovative. In these pieces, he
addresses the horrors of war, and especially mass bombing, mainly in the Second
World War. Here the pictures fill the
whole page, with a column of white on black text in a column on the left. The drawing is intricate and detailed, and
while it is still very stylized, it's far more sympathetic to its characters,
except when they are the people whose decisions led to the bombing.
Part Eight, "More Women, More
Children, More Quickly." tells the story of his relative Carmen Sacco as a
resident of the small island of Malta, which was heavily bombed between
1935-43. Part Nine, "How I Loved
the War," tells of Joe Sacco's growing preoccupation with war and his
thoughts as the first Gulf War took place in 1991. Those comics that feature the artist are a little less
interesting, because really most readers will have little interest in his
personal life -- what is powerful in his work is his concern about politics and
his anger for the lies that people tell about war in order to justify their
Notes From a Defeatist is a
difficult book to read from cover to cover because it becomes repetitious after
a few stories, and the tone is always full of anger, occasionally mixed with
some grief or humor. Nevertheless,
Sacco's work is extremely accomplished and at least some of it makes a powerful
statement. This collection is probably
best for those who are already familiar with his work and have enjoyed it.
© 2003 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department
at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology
Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in
medicine, psychiatry and psychology.