Person of the week
by: ©2008 RYAN WILSON-PAULSE, An exhibit at Pacific Northwest College of Art sheds light on Joe Sacco’s method and work, including this page from “Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95.”

'I've always talked about chaining myself to my desk,' says comics journalist Joe Sacco over lunch at the decidedly retro Country Bill's on Southeast Woodstock Boulevard. 'I won't say I'm doing that literally, but I really want to finish this book.'

He's referring to his upcoming history of modern Palestine in comic book form.

When it comes out in 2009, he expects it will be around 400 pages long. He's currently holed up in his Woodstock home working 10- and 12-hour days hand-drawing the images based on photos he took on several visits to the Middle East. He says, 'I'm over halfway done.'

In the meantime, for those who want a glimpse of the Sacco method, he has a show called Graphic Articles opening at the Pacific Northwest College of Art today. It consists of 21 original pages of Sacco's work, as well as two display cases showing reference materials and two audiotapes.

In the words of curator Mack McFarland, 'Graphic Articles seeks to shed light on the power and technique of Sacco's work by examining the original artwork from published books as well as documents of his process.'

McFarland coined the term 'graphic articles' to distinguish nonfiction comics from graphic novels.

Sacco, 47, is a pioneer of using comics for serious reporting. He does extensive research to make sure his stories have authenticity, then draws himself in the frame as narrator to highlight his subjectivity.

For instance, he barely sketches in the field, preferring to take photos. He uses a cassette recorder to tape his interviews. And then he retreats to his study for years to create the finished product.

Sacco draws every panel by hand, including all the crosshatching. There are no shortcuts to be had using a computer, especially when it comes to drawing the human form.

'There was a point where I thought I don't want to hatch anymore,' he says, 'so I did (ink) washes, but it looked so terrible when printed.'

He doesn't own a photocopier or scanner, and only took up using a digital camera in Iraq, where he was the first reporter into Haditha.

As a form, graphic articles aren't exactly booming. Sacco mentions Guy Delisle, who draws about Asia, including North Korea and Burma, and Ted Rall, who has covered Afghanistan, and 'some French journalists,' but, he says, 'I know some people who've experimented, but few cartoonists have put their shoulder into it.'

The new work will look different from what's at PNCA.

'I've consciously toned down the angles from 'Palestine' (his 2001 comics reportage). I've not used visual hyperbole so much,' he says. That book has just been reissued by Fantagraphics in a special edition with extended notes.

Sacco talks with passion when he describes the deprivation of Hamas-ruled Palestine and how the area has been left to stew by the Israelis. Nothing from the work in progress is included in the show - he won't let it out of his sight.

'It's like Linus' blanket, I need all my work around me,' he says. He doesn't sell pages either, hoping one day to donate his whole archive and papers to a university.

After the current book is done, he would like to 'do some funny stuff,' maybe fiction, although he admits that fiction - graphic novels - is harder to do than journalism.

As for art, he is quite clear. No one's going to find 'a trove of collages or installation pieces after I'm gone,' he says with a laugh.

'I don't sketch for fun - I hate it when people ask me to draw a birthday card!' he says. 'I draw just for work. Which doesn't mean I don't enjoy my work. Work is my life.'

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