I had heard rumblings that the night’s guest would draw a larger crowd than usual but I wasn’t prepared for how large the crowd might be. As we filed into the theater from the packed lobby area, it was difficult to find an ideal seating spot. This presentation was co-presented with the University of Michigan International Institute’s Conflict and Peace initiative, and the official Stamps website contains a full list of the sponsors for the night.
Tonight’s event was not a formal speech, but more of an open discussion between the guest Joe Sacco and a host from the International Institute’s Conflict and Peace Initiative. As the discussion proceeded different images of Sacco’s work were projected onto the screen behind them, and while switching from photo to photo could be highly distracting it was a nice visual supplement to the presentation, and often was used as a conversation point.
Joe Sacco, as we gradually came to know throughout the course of the talk, had originally received a degree in journalism at the University of Oregon, before finding that creating comics was both a way to indulge in his passion for art and to reach a wider audience that are put off by long history books and dense articles. He approaches his subject matter in the same way a war correspondent might. He traveled the world, and his very first comic, Palestine, was directly based off of his personal travels through Israel and the West Bank. Some of his award-winning works include Footnotes in Gaza, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt and Safe Area Gorazde. He is highly regarded by comic lovers and news junkies alike for his careful research and thoughtful approach to delicate and politically charged subjects.
When asked what inspired his work and the topics he chooses to work on, Joe Sacco responded quite succinctly that anger above all else was the driving force behind his comics. He looked for topics that created a sense of frustration or injustice in him, and just as importantly ones that he would maintain a passion for the many years that it takes to finish a single piece. He also discussed his dislike of the word “graphic novels,” because of how his works are not novels despite fitting under that subcategory. He admits, however, that the word is here to stay and will use it himself when describing his occupation to others.
One piece that was discussed quite thoroughly was Sacco’s 24-foot-long graphic tableau “The Great War.” Sacco spoke briefly about how fascinated he was with World War I while growing up in Australia, where that war takes up a large part of their cultural identity. His inspiration for this specific piece was The Bayeux Tapestry, and he wanted to create a similar narrative scroll that told a story when read from left to right.
As an artist, I also found the discussion of the artistic styles to be quite interesting. Sacco talked briefly about his upcoming project and how he will be turning traditional comic styles on their head in order to better convey the meaning and message that he wants to. He’s working on a project about the indigenous peoples of Canada, and as such is experimenting with creating comics with no borders and an aesthetic style that focuses heavily on nature and natural forms. He believes this will better fit the ideology and tone of the work itself, as the groups he will be focusing on have a specific way of thinking about nature.
As the crowds streamed out of the theater and into the brisk night air, we were once again greeted with live music. A long line of people waiting for autographs trailed up the staircase to the second balcony, further proving the popularity of tonight’s speaker.
If you would like to check out more of Joe Sacco’s work you can purchase many of his books from amazon here. The STAMPS speaker series is free to the public and is free to the public and is offered every Thursday at 5:10 at the Michigan Theater. You can find a full list of the upcoming speakers here.