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Joe Sacco Journalism and the Heights Silent Movie

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Hijacking Old Forms

Joe Sacco’s Journalism is a sort of graphic-novel-meets-global-reportage. It’s cartooning with a deadly serious purpose that hijacks both reporting and cartooning and drops both at a new place. Mr. Sacco actually does several new things with this book: sketching out the story, inserting reporting into cartoon bubbles, publishing reporting that looks like a graphic novel. But chief among these new things is Sacco inserting himself into the story he was reporting. Most journalists work hard at writing objectively, that is, without bias. Though that is an impossible task, news readers want to feel they are hearing more than one side of a story.


Sacco went the opposite way: he inserted himself as reporter, sketched right into the panels of the action. We see him ask the uncomfortable question and record the answer while the action goes on—the medium allows for this in an extraordinary way.

The result is a book that is difficult to stick with because the war and refugee experiences depicted are shown in such a raw manner. I think this is exactly what Sacco was after: reporting that grabs you and forces you to interact. He is driving home the difficult stories of our day—and they are hard to see.

Sacco offers no apology for hearing from just one side. The feel of the book is a newspaper as told by your troubled, immigrant neighbor. You want to ignore it (as we do with so many difficult stories) but the whole thing is laid out right before you.

Speaking of being dropped at a new place, last night Mrs. Kirkistan and I attended the remastered The Thief of Baghdad at the Heights Theater, a silent movie complete with the mighty Wurlitzer emerging from the floor. Organist Karl Eilers did a masterful job of providing a continuous soundtrack for two and a half-hours (Oy!) of screen silence. What struck me was how different this experience was from my typical movie-going experience. Because sound incorporates, Eilers’ organ-playing and the response of the crowd (mostly laughter at what was once amazing special effects) were much more prominent. And it took the entire crowd (indeed, the theater was nearly full) to respond to Douglas Fairbanks’ dramatic wind-milling responses to most any situation—it must take a lot of physical energy to communicate without words.07152013-MightyWurlitzer

What old form should you revitalize today?


Image credit: Joe Sacco, Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

July 15, 2013 at 9:30 am

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