Monday, December 13, 2010

Comics for Cosmopolitans.

In the following I am discussing the Comics
JOE SACCO: "Palestine" and "Safe Area Gorazde"
and MARIJANE SATRAPI: "Persepolis"
It was an essay for university (here in an edited version for you), on the question "Who decides and how is it decided who is right or wrong, friend or foe on the politically heated/strong/sensitive issues?" (AND: Try hard not to be influenced by the political correctness of your environment, i.e., family, teacher, classroom, friend circle, peer pressure, populist films and TV series, official government policies, greater society, etc. Defend your own perspective in a logical manner, listening to your inner voice and establishing your individualistic manner.)

I strongly suggest everyone to read those books him/herself. They do not take to much time but give a lot of information, impression and hopefully inspiration to get deeper into the issues. 
I hope my essay piques your curiosity!
Joe Sacco calls himself a drawing journalist. He has a degree in journalism. And Journalism is objective, isn’t it?
Not nescessarily. Sacco is definitely biased. In the simple sense that his project is focused on only one persepective of the particular conflict he describes. He’s giving voice, as he’s letting people tell their stories, to only one aggrieved party (besides short excursions, in wich he even broaches this issue himself, such as his talk to two Israelian girls in the end of Palestine). He’s intentionally choosing to give his power and freedom of spech to a certain group of people, the people of Palestine and those of Gorazde. And by this you could say, he also decides who is depicted as the „bad guy(s)“. One party is described by Sacco, his words, his images. This one side is friends. He is hosted and helped out by them, he gives them names and faces and personal tales of woe. The other party is described only through the eyes of its opponent, wich makes it automatically „foe“, at least by the narrative. If he retells resistance against the Israelis his drawings are wide and often take pages, if he describes harrassement or assaults by the israelian army, the frames get small and claustrophobic-monotone.
Nevertheless Sacco himself does not decide. But he is refering to historical events, without describing them in detail (wich also has the side-effect to inspire personal research), that give the reader a direction. That clearly point out inequity and injustice. That give the reader a basis to judge on wrong and right. On the other hand he is interspersing facts, that remind the reader, that he/she’s only told one part of the story and that might keep him/her a little uncertain about his/her judjement. Wich is in my opinion one of the best aspects about Saccos reports, to admit the and sensitise for the boundedness of perspective/journalism/news/knowledge in general.
In „Safe Area Gorazde“ (about the balkan war - you know that one in the 90ties, on "europes doorsill" - well, i didn't know much about it I have to admit) the question on who is friend and who is enemy is even by the story itself very blurry, as neighbours become combatants, friends become enemies. Sacco shows in this case very intensely, how irrational and inscrutable the synthesis (I use this word to point out the „made“ and constructed part, the not-naturally-givenness) of hostility is.
In all the here analysed comics the authors use a very individual, but always more or less abstract, black and white drawing style (as hero/action-associated colour-comic wouldn’t be adequate to the issue). Sacco and also Spiegelman tell us more about the brutal things than showing them, they represent realities without exploiting them. They give a sense of the „horror“ but do not assuage an all to fleshly gazing voyeurism.
Especially Art Spiegelman elaborates the abstraction by giving his figures animal heads (Jews are mice, Nazis/Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, ...). This provides the possibility to take distance to a deeply personal story and make it somehow universal and more approachable for not (in)directly affected people. The animal-looks are a highly dense and complex aspect of his work that is „multi-interpretable“ (this alone could make another paper).
On one hand this aspect is taking up the point, that Nazi-Germans defined Jews as a completely other race, that Nazi-Propaganda said there was a clear, also physical distinction between ariyans/germans/humans and jews. But there is my Problem – this was propaganda, no reality. You could not by one look distinguish who was jewish or not (if you leave religious or traditional clothing aside) so I would rather find this lie deconstructed than indirectly supported. (but I can overlook that, regarding the other positive fascettes this abstraction adds to the story)
And it refers (if intended or not) to Nazi-Propaganda that vilifies Mickey Mouse (maybe the comic-hero par excellence) as a filthy, germ spreading anti-model, that is only jewish infiltration on the youth. Also jews were refered to as vermin.
On the other hand (and this turns us to the question of this essay) it draws a clear line and makes a visual distinguishability in between victim and criminal. As there is historically absolutely no doubt, who is guilty, who is wrong, so incredible wrong, I support this. There is no point in mentioning here, that of course Germans tried to put any guilt they could make up on jews, as the history is not debatable on this subject. Maybe it’s just worth to be mentioned, as this aspect shows even more that Nazis weren’t right and really were at a loss to explain and to exculpate.
One thing in "Maus" that I consider worth looking at is a highly selfreflexive part. „Artie“ (Art Spiegelman, the author himself) thinks about his comic and media reactions to it. He answers the often asked question, why younger germans should feel guilty: „Maybe everyone has to feel guilty. EVERYONE. FOREVER.“ I like this Question/Proposition. As a german myself, I do not feel any personal guilt. But a historical guilt. One that is not about regretting what I have done, but more about an awareness what humans are capable of, and about responibility for what I will do or not do in my future. And as I said "what humans are capable of", I wish that everyone would share this guilt, or high sensitivity, or whatever you want to call it. As still, if you look on the world there are so many places where we, as a mankind, are only a small step away from what happend once.
To go back to the comic: Also in these pages Art talks to his psychologist and they’re cutting the issue of jews feeling guilty for survival. This is another interesting aspect, but I have neither the knowledge nor the space to discuss it here.
Both, Joe Sacco and Marijane Satrapi, are said to be influenced by Spiegelmans Maus. Wheras Spiegelman and Sacco are retelling storys they are told, Satrapi writes about her own life. All of the books are showing a subordinate reflexion on the issue, in Maus and Sacco’s it is the retelling, the extern position of the author that gives them distance, in Satrapi it is her older self that trys to gain distance to her younger self as the protagonist. Even though she’s not drawing as abstract as Spiegelman, her style is very very reduced, only black and white, nearly no shading. Her childish-naiv style makes a good antipode to the partially direful and absurd episodes of her life.
As a directly concerned part of the historical events, Satrapi has every right to be subjective. But thanks to the childish perspective, the judgement of the story is never ahead of the protagonist, Marij. It offers the reader to see „the world through childrens eyes“. This is a very enriching perspective, reminding the reader that everything he knows about, he is sure about (espeicially regarding certain incidents and political situations in the world) is learned and acquired and that maybe sometimes he should try to push a reset-button, to have a clear, innocent (if you want so), view on what is going on.

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