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Comics and Narratological Perspective: (Witnessing) Bias in Direct Experience

By Rachel Kunert-Graf

“Characteristic for the novel as a genre is not the image of a man in his own right, but precisely the image of a language. But in order that language become an artistic image, it must become speech from speaking lips, conjoined with the image of a speaking person.” (Mikhail Bakhtin, “Discourse in the Novel” 336)

From Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986) to John Lewis’s March (2013) nonfiction, historical comics are some of the most well known in the medium, and the trend is only growing. Scholars like Hillary Chute (author of the recent monograph devoted to “documentary comics,” Disaster Drawn) have persuasively shown that the medium’s narrative multiplicity makes comics particularly strong vehicles for the telling of history—and of stories of persecution and trauma in particular. Many comics scholars describe nonfiction comics in two competing ways, on the one hand praising the form’s self-reflexive nature for exposing the processes of selection and imposed order that mediate access to history, and yet, on the other hand, insisting that comics offer a special authenticity and accuracy to deliver ‘truthful’ traumatic history. The supposition is that in the hands of great artists, comics capture the kernel of raw experience, in no small part because comics are not bound by the confines of other narrative forms. A common claim is that comics “break the frame” of history and represent often invisible experience. The critical flaw to claims of experiential accuracy (in comics or otherwise) is the conceit that subjectivity ever exists outside of discourse, outside of narrative.

What is the “truth” of experience? No singular truth exists. As Mikhail Bakhtin astutely observed in his essay “Discourse in the Novel” (1934), all discourse—speech, thought, expression—is “heteroglossic” and derives from many blended and competing voices. In the analysis of two pieces of comics journalism that follows, I suggest that witnessing, by which I mean both seeing first hand and bearing witness to others, is far from a subjective, personal experience. Rather, witnessed “truth” exists only in the context of heteroglossic discourse. Raw experience is always already mediated (to borrow a turn of phrase favored by Slavoj Zizek). Comics’ strength is that they show us how this mediation occurs.

To question the relationship of subjective experience and representation in comics, I read the tension between firsthand witnessing and secondhand reportage in Joe Sacco’s novel-length Footnotes in Gaza (2009) and artist Rutu Modan and journalist Igal Sarna’s short collaboration “War Rabbit” (2009), both works in the genre Sacco terms “comics journalism.” With images interpreted through the artists, these texts combine firsthand accounts of conflict from the perspectives of interviewees. The cartoonists in this chapter are not themselves direct witnesses to most of the events depicted. Additionally, their narratives are mediated through other figures, such as interpreters where there is a language barrier. Almost all events depicted have some layering of information told to the principal raconteur by another person whom the cartoonist never meets. Graphic narratives’ untidy multi-modality highlights discursive, visual, and ideological imprints on subjective experience: they represent multiple “voices”—including Israelis and Palestinians who comment on the way their interests are represented in various media—and they present each discursive account alongside visual representations that trouble testimonial authenticity.

In the field of history, reconciling multiple and contradictory narrative perspectives is paramount. Chronicling historical events, such as the events of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one encounters a range of perception. Individuals’ respective “truths” mitigate one another. Professional historians take for granted that individual experience incompletely reflects reality: relatively minor differences of circumstance can render ‘shared’ experience quite different for the people involved, and sensory faculties are influenced by personal history and individual embodiment such that two people in exactly the same place at the same time will observe differently. For instance, Alun Munslow, who subscribes to Hayden White’s theory of history as literature, contends that the historian’s proper task is to recognize the material factors motivating each source and to scrutinize the reliability of elements therein. Munslow advocates: “Deconstructionist history openly accepts a dissenting role for the historian as someone who must challenge the established notions of authority within contemporary society by refusing to ‘tidy up’ the past by ascribing origins and causes with the claim to evidentially certified truth” (74). I read the cross-discursive nature of comics narratology as itself a “refus(al) to ‘tidy up'” the historical truth. Moreover, nonfiction comics have a special ability to animate the competing perspectives of historical witnesses and stakeholders.

Nearly every scholar to write about Joe Sacco’s comics journalism notes that historical events always appear in conjunction with the witnesses who recount them, self-referentially filtered through Sacco’s artistic lens. This filtering is emphasized through the frequent depiction of Sacco conducting interviews, taking photographs, and discussing his uncertainties. It is also, many note, visually sign-posted by Sacco’s cartoon visage, noticeably distinct from the more detailed faces around him, especially on account of his large glasses (ie. figurative “lenses”). “War Rabbit” also emphasizes its authorial filtering, by depicting Modan and Sarna in conversation about the witnesses they interview and by pointedly illustrating figments of Modan’s imagination.

A somewhat discordant theme to this self-reflexivity is Sacco’s critique of so-called “objective” journalism. Benjamin Woo explores the meaning of “comics journalism,” a term Sacco coined, ultimately rejecting the term as a false claim to “information” and arguing that Sacco’s work is something other (and better) than “journalism.” For Woo, this lack of objective information is actually a boon, because, he argues, Sacco communicates something more valuable, experiential knowledge, basing the distinction between “information” and “experience” on the writing of Walter Benjamin. In Woo’s analysis, Sacco succeeds at conveying experiential truth by avoiding claims of objectivity. In contrast, Marc Singer argues that while Woo’s analysis depends on an overly narrow definition of “journalism,” Sacco actually participates in many of the “journalistic pretenses to objectivity” that the cartoonist critiques (Singer 67). In Singer’s analysis, Sacco’s lack of objectivity is, however, a journalistic virtue, even as his work betrays certain biases in attention because true objectivity is impossible.

Rutu Modan also employs hand-drawn comics to embrace the relationship of subjectivity to historical knowledge. Although Modan’s piece is much smaller in length than Sacco’s, my analysis treats the two texts equally for two reasons. First, there has already been such a wealth of scholarship on Joe Sacco’s comics journalism, to which I am indebted. Whereas attention to Sacco is only growing, Rutu Modan has received far less critical discussion.1 Second, Modan’s comics journalism well deserve critical study, because of the way she combines visual and verbal registers to examine the interrelationships between mediated points of view.

In what follows I explore subjective representation in comics from three perspectives. First, I focus analysis of each text at the level of visual-verbal narrative to questions of witnessing. Cartoonists can employ multiple visual/verbal narrative ‘tracks’ to distinguish amongst the layers of mediation involved in depicting historical persecution. In some places each text makes obvious the mediation between direct witnesses, cartoonists/authors and the intermediaries between them, while obscuring this layering elsewhere. Cartoonists also employ deliberate page compositions to transition amongst varying perspectives, a process through which comics authors represent their own perspectives. Thus, this essay turns secondly, to issues of conscious and unconscious authorial bias. Just as historical “witnesses” recount events through culturally mediated narratives and perspectives, “authorial” perspective is so mediated as well. The texts in question use the verbal register of comics (usually captions) to indicate cultural expectations, such as when Sacco comments on how events in Palestine are portrayed in US media, but struggle to make comics’ visual register self-conscious about the texts’ own participation in cultural logic. Whereas the visual and verbal registers taken on their own largely fail to be self-critical—that is to say, to escape discursive bias—the cross-discursive function of words and images is the site of comics’ potential to unsettle cultural expectations. Lastly, if experience and representation both depend on shared cultural knowledges, they are knowledges in which readers also participate. This essay’s primary texts trade on shared identity between author and assumed reader by including authors’ biographical information, by echoing familiar speech and images, and at times by encouraging reader identification. Thus, I end by arguing that, as Mikhail Bakhtin claimed of literary language in the prose novel form, comics’ narrative visual and verbal languages reflect the multiple voices that inform individual perspectives, even as those competing voices may harmonize around community identity.

Figure 1: Nadav and Yoram, “War Rabbit,” page 4

Witnessing and Testimony

Rutu Modan is best known for her graphic novels Exit Wounds (2007) and The Property (2013). Modan’s writing has often taken inspiration from history and from Modan’s own life experiences, but the journalistic aspect of “War Rabbit” sets it apart in her oeuvre. Rather than casting a fictional set of characters in a realistic setting, as her graphic novels do in their treatment of terrorist bombings in Israel and Jewish-European ties after the Holocaust, Modan renders the stories of direct historical witnesses in “War Rabbit.” Modan and Israeli Journalist Igal Sarna, visit an Israeli town near the Palestinian border during an air raid. Structurally, “War Rabbit” alternates between representations of Modan’s and Sarna’s direct experience traveling to the border town and imaginative renderings of the experiences of the town’s residents, renderings that presumably follow from interviews. (Unlike Footnotes in Gaza, “War Rabbit” does not visualize the interviewing process.) At the center is Israeli construction worker Yoram, who is introduced in cell phone conversation with his Palestinian counterpart, Nadam, both men shown atop cranes. Separately, the story introduces Yoram’s children and wife who spend their day in a communal bomb shelter. The story also features a lost rabbit, which functions as titular metonym for “human beings [driven] underground” (10).

Modan hesitates to describe her comics as political. When French publisher Delcourt first approached her for the piece that became “War Rabbit,” Modan declined: “I didn’t want to do political stories, or comics journalism … I don’t like stories that have an agenda. Well, there’s always an agenda to a story but a political agenda is different from an artistic agenda. In politics you always have to decide what side you’re on, but in stories, I like them to be more ambivalent because I think that life is more ambivalent than politics, even in Israel” (quoted in Sobel).2 Interestingly, Modan all but assumes a lack of objectivity in the genre of comics journalism. Is it true that to tell (or hear) a political story one must always choose a side? The language of ambivalence connotes wavering between two positions. The idea that there are “two-sides” follows from journalistic convention to tell both sides of a story.3 Yet, as I demonstrate in what follows, multiple subjective positions compete for narrative authority in comics like “War Rabbit”: the perspectives of each witness, along with those of Modan and her co-author Igal Sarna. If political discourse reduces that variation in subjective experience to two-sided conflict, the comics medium can reinstall multiplicity. Comics like “War Rabbit” need not have an agenda; they do have multiple biases.

Direct witnessing comes only from Israelis in “War Rabbit.” All but one of the scenes in the story seems to correspond to the point of view of an Israeli, specifically to Rutu’s and Igal’s perspectives and to those of the Israeli family. Excluding the page depicting Nadam, which shows him operating a crane over Gaza, the story concerns itself with Israeli spaces and memories. Nadam’s position perched above Gaza emphasizes his distance from the authors, with the added irony that he tells Yoram he is there to help a photographer capture images of destruction. To a degree, this bias is the unavoidable consequence of journalistic limitations; Modan and Igal were unable to cross the border into Gaza and so only had access to Israeli perspectives. As Igal laments, the Israeli state denied journalists access to Palestine during the Gaza War, over-representing Israeli suffering: “The tragedy is over there, but they’re not letting us in, so every cat that goes missing over here gets a bigger headline than a hundred of their dead do” (2). Modan and Sarna recognize that limited access and the imperative to report available facts can contribute to biased journalism. This dialogue critiques Israeli media in general terms, but it also scrutinizes the perspectives depicted in “War Rabbit,” because like the newspaper headlines Igal alludes to, the Israeli family evinces more concern for a lost rabbit than for Palestinian plight.

Figure 2: “War Rabbit,” page 9.

Despite her concerns about political bias, Modan’s choice to frame the story from an Israeli perspective appears deliberate: “I felt I had to take the opportunity to show the events from my point of view as an Israeli who’s against the war but still sees the complexity of the situation” (quoted in Sobel). A crucial part of that “complexity” is Modan’s unflinching depiction of Israeli bigotry. A woman in the border town’s shared bomb shelter yelling, “They’re all murderers over there. They should all be wiped off the face of the earth” is a particularly reprehensible example. In the adjoining panel, one of the children pokes her baby brother and repeats the words, “wipe them out.” Without explanatory captioning, readers are left to reconcile the panel of the two sleeping children with the rest of the page through the process Scott McCloud has named “closure”: readers must infer the panel’s narrative relationship to the others that come before and after. The dialogue in this case reveals more nefarious processes of influence than children’s idle repetition of phrases heard. The grammatical transformation of the passive-voiced statement, “They should all be wiped off,” to the girl’s imperative utterance, “wipe them out,” makes the former’s call to violence explicit. Through this panel structure Modan suggests that the older generation of Israelis (implicitly, perhaps) instructs the younger to persecute Palestinians.

Equally disturbing as the consciously expressed bigotry, however, is the fact that Yoram’s children have so internalized this attitude that they may not be able to appreciate Palestinian humanity, despite Yoram’s patient efforts. When Yoram first tells his son, Yakir, that he knows someone in Gaza, the son responds incredulously, “You know a guy who’s in Hamas?” (7). Yakir lives through the air-raids with his family, but neither physical proximity to Gaza nor Yoram’s direct testimony inspires sympathy with Gazan plight. At times, Yakir appears curious. He begins a question, “So what does your friend look like?” but he seeks answers that confirm previously held bias, asking in the same breath, “Is he armed?” Conceiving these two questions together reveals a troubling failure to recognize humanity in the ‘enemy’. In a literal sense being “armed” is not a question of appearance at all. Yakir is not interested in distinguishing physical feature such as hair length, height and facial structure, because he is not interested in Nadam as a person. Modan’s drawing in the panel further underscores Yakir’s impersonal imagination. A thought bubble above his head shows a person whose body and face are completely concealed by a tunic, mask, and gloves.

Does Yakir (the boy whom Modan and Sarna may or may not have directly interviewed) truly imagine Nadam as a masked militarized figure or do the authors project this imagination onto him? Like other documentary media, comics journalism must grapple with layers of mediation. In this case, Yakir’s thought process is likely interpreted by his father based on his speech and mannerisms; Igal Sarna interviewed Yoram, who likely recalled conversation(s) with his son; Sarna relayed his discussions with Yoram to Rutu Modan; Modan herself visited the border town where she may have heard from Yoram directly; finally, Modan illustrates the above exchange, which appears as one conversation but could easily be a consolidated rendering of multiple discussions between father and son. Of course, layered mediation is a feature in all testimony-based nonfiction, including comics, prose and film. What distinguishes comics is that structural elements (including dialogue and drawing) can concurrently correspond to several distinct perspectives. Whereas a camera is limited to available physical spaces and to consenting subjects, comic representation is neither limited by physical proximity nor by technological prerequisites (e.g. lighting). One could argue that this representative freedom too far removes comics representation from reality. Yet, the perceived immediacy of film can function to obscure mediation. As documentary film theorist Bill Nichols elaborates in Representing Reality, the indexical reality of cinematic images (the verifiable fact that a camera directly records witness testimony) erroneously casts recorded testimony as inherently trustworthy. Moreover, the passive condition of viewing film makes it less likely for audiences to note discrepancies in on-screen witness accounts. Nichols contends, “Documentaries usually invite us to take as true what subjects recount about something that happened even if we also see how more than one perspective is possible” (21, my emphasis). Where Nichols sees a formal obstacle for film-makers seeking to challenge the reliability of cinematic testimony, I see the opposite in comics—a formal tendency to pit perspectives against one another without neat resolution.

Witness authority in hand-drawn comics does not rest on indexical presentation of the witnessing subject, but on the contrary is conferred via abstracting witness testimony from visual representation of the testimonial speaker. Put more simply, the comics page that represents character speech in the form of captions confers more authority to that speech than one that presents the same dialogue in speech balloons. Of the many potential interviewees for the above page, Yoram is the only one whose perspective appears detached from his image. Panels on the upper and lower right of the page depict scenes likely unavailable to Yoram’s direct view (and likewise unavailable to Modan) and are captioned with dialogue that continues from his speech to his son. In contrast to Yakir’s green-tinted thought-image, the image of tunnel interiors appears relatively unmediated. On superficial reading it may seem that Yoram’s captioned speech functions like a voice-over to an image that has less subjective status. Indeed, Modan’s drawing recalls press photos of the Gazan tunnels. Due to physical constraints, press photographs of the tunnels all feature the same composition, in which individuals (and sometimes livestock) center, the narrow tunnel walls partially concealed by their bodies. Drawing by hand, Modan could have drawn the tunnel from different visual perspectives, but “War Rabbit” connotes realism by mirroring this composition and by including spatial details found in photographs such as uneven rock face and electrical wiring that runs from the image’s outside border through the interior tunnel space.

Figure 3: Photograph: Khalil Hamra/AP, 2009

Though hand-drawn, “War Rabbit” here trades on widely disseminated photographs. Yoram’s dialogue sutures his perspective to the image. Borrowing from Nichols’s analysis of documentary film, we might say that realism at the level of the image lends credibility to Yoram’s interpretation. By installing Yoram’s dialogue in a caption box rather than a speech balloon and by pairing it with a realistic visual rendering of individuals using a tunnel, Modan extends narrative authority to Yoram’s explanation: “They’re under blockade so they dig. If this building collapses on us, wouldn’t we start digging to get ourselves out of here? They dig to get gas through, to bring in sheep, food, Coke, weapons too . . .” (9). However, this realistic image betrays subtle indicators of interpretive bias; rather than depicting an objective image, this panel may instead reflect Yakir’s imagination as he interprets his father’s speech through familiar visual paradigms. No doubt having seen many photographs like the one above in Israeli media, Yakir perhaps imagines a realistic space.4 It would be consistent with a young perspective to imagine The Laughing Cow® branded cheese cartons rather than more nutritive goods, but this detail also reflects the commodity-driven economic reality.5 A stronger marker that this image reflects Yakir’s imagination is that the fabric drawn over the men’s faces to protect their lungs is green (one of the four colors of the Palestinian flag: green, red, white and black), creating a visual connection between the tunnel smugglers and Yakir’s “Hamas” fantasy of Nadam. The subtlety of this suggestion works to reveal an essential challenge in visualizing history: “Realism” both informs and responds to cultural imagination. Put otherwise, Modan’s photorealistic rendering of the Gazan tunnels provides no satisfying distinction between subjective and objective perspective, because no such distinction meaningfully exists.

Frustration with the limits and biases of mainstream journalism motivated cartoonist and trained journalist Joe Sacco to pioneer the field of “comics journalism.” For Sacco, claims to objectivity in journalism are not only deceptive, but the assumption of objectivity also conceals the material circumstances through which journalists may actually influence the people and events on which they report. Sacco writes, “Despite the impression they might try to give, journalists are not flies on the wall that are neither seen nor heard. In the field, when reporting, a journalist’s presence is always felt. Young men shake their guns in the air when a camera crew starts filming” (Journalism xiii). Sacco’s critique of journalistic convention highlights the fact that witness/subject testimony and behavior are potentially influenced by the journalistic situation, including the physical presence of reporter and camera. On the one hand, as Modan’s work illustrates, individual perspectives can reflect dominant media representations in ways that conceal bias. On the other hand, media literate witnesses, who become sources for journalists, may react to media representations with performances of conformance, mistrust, confrontation, etc.

Whereas Rutu Modan shows the consequence of biased media portrayals through representing Israelis who are unable to recognize Palestinian humanity, Joe Sacco counters stereotypical Western imaginations of the Palestinian people by devoting hundreds of pages to representing them (and their stories) in Palestine (1996) and Footnotes in Gaza (2009). For Palestine, Sacco visited the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the first Intifada, and records their accounts of contemporary Israeli occupation. Footnotes also begins as a journalistic project, with Sacco accompanying Chris Hedges in early 2001 to report on the beginnings of the second Intifada for Harper’s magazine. Hedges and Sacco visited the town of Khan Younis, where they interviewed survivors of a 1956 massacre. Harper’s decided not to publish Hedges’ paragraphs concerning the massacre: “I found that galling. This episode . . . hardly deserved to be thrown back on the pile of obscurity. But there it lay, like innumerable historical tragedies over the ages that barely rate footnote status in the broad sweep of history—even though . . . they often contain the seeds of the grief and anger that shape present-day events” (Sacco, Footnotes ix). “Between November 2002 and March 2003,” Sacco returned to Gaza to research the massacre at Khan Younis as well as second mass killing that took place in Rafah in 1956. Footnotes in Gaza is a graphic history of those events, and it is also one of the only—and by far the most extensive—published texts documenting those massacres.6

Figure 4: Footnotes in Gaza, page 205.

While Sacco is critical of American and European media for relegating these parts of Palestinian history to obscurity, he acknowledges that to represent those stories means also to grapple with competing perspectives. At its most self-reflective Footnotes in Gaza depicts multiple interviewees describing the same event(s) and makes obvious the differences in their accounts. One page, for instance, depicts six interviewees, each closely framed in individual panels with captions indicating his name and a speech balloon of his direct testimony about the same event: the first testimony reads, “In the morning, 6 or 6:30, a loud speaker called . . .” whereas the testimony in the panel next to it says, “They called at night” (Sacco 205). By representing four other witnesses on the page (most who concur that the call was in the morning), Sacco invites readers to decide—or at least to feel as though they are deciding for themselves—which testimony is most credible. Elsewhere in Footnotes Sacco depicts himself questioning the accuracy of the testimony he receives: “But I’m very skeptical that Mohammed could have survived so many bullets to the head. And how would he know how many had been fired?” (224). Through gestures like these Sacco demonstrates the relative weakness of individual memory and assures readers that he responsibly represents witness accounts, leaving room for reader interpretation.

Ultimately, the sense that readers participate in discovering historical truth is belied by the fact that Sacco visually depicts and thus authorizes particular renderings of historical events. The pages of Footnotes in Gaza alternately depict the interviews and field investigation Sacco undertakes circa 2002 and 1956, events about which he gathers information through that research. To mitigate the effect his own subjective experience has in shaping his illustrated rendering, Sacco takes extensive photographs of the people he interviews and the places he travels, a process he describes in the book’s afterword verbally and visually by repeatedly drawing himself holding a camera and snapping photographs. Like many journalists, he relies on audio-recorded interviews to directly quote interviewees. When possible he uses historical photographs and other archival materials to illustrate events from the past, but his project is to synthesize these disparate (and relatively few) sources with the testimony he receives through first-hand interviews of historical witnesses.

Figure 5: Footnotes in Gaza, page 47.

More so than any of his previous work, Sacco’s drawing style in Footnotes in Gaza is richly detailed, especially so in contrast to his more ‘cartoonish’ (fiction and auto-biographical) collections Notes from a Defeatist (2003) and Bumf (2014). With few exceptions, meticulously rendered faces and geographies showcase laborious use of graphical perspective and shading. A consequence of this level of detail is that the drawn images seldom illustrate the captions exactly. Put another way, unlike the visual renderings in “War Rabbit,” the images in Footnotes in Gaza do not appear to reflect the individual biases of witnesses. In many cases, such as the above excerpted page, events are narrated from opposing perspectives, with both witnesses drawn into the page. By pairing the words of multiple interviewees with distinct drawings (which may or may not correspond to individual perspectives), Sacco coheres them through his own narrative authority. The visual renderings do not correspond to each witness’s point of view, but through page composition Sacco makes implicit claims about each person’s subjective relationship to the events described. In the above example, Sacco uses testimony by two military commanders: Mordechai Bar-On, former IDF chef-de-bureau, and a Fedayeen commander who did not reveal his name. The two men were opposing military leaders in the 1950s. Sacco draws both of their 21st century likenesses in the foreground of his page, the events of the past appearing literally behind their bodies and behind their speech. The similarity in their positioning ends there. Sacco draws the Israeli military leader at a remove from the historical events: Bar-On appears in the lower right corner of the page, his body superimposed over a riot scene; the edge of the page cuts off parts of his head and body as if to suggest that he belongs elsewhere. In contrast, Sacco draws the Fedayeen commander as the focal point of the page: his face appears in its literal center; the outlines of his body become the contours that separate two panels in the middle tier; his body is cut-off not by the edges of the page, but rather by panels that represent the past; the 1956 truck fire shown (in the panel to the left) even appears to illuminate one side of his face. Through all of these visual features that connect the man to the historical events depicted, Sacco suggests that the past means more to the Fedayeen commander than it does to Bar-On. Thus, while attempting not to represent the events of the past through the visual lens of his subjects, Sacco nonetheless denotes witnesses’ subjective positions as individuals affected by those events—and perhaps also affected by the act of testifying.

Language Mediation

Of course, faithfully representing events, past or present, as direct witnesses experience them is an impossible task. It is equally impossible to tell “history” and be faithful to individual memory. The ways culture mediates individual perspective not withstanding, experience can only be conveyed through languages that have their own cultural contexts. Purely subjective experience remains inaccessible, because representation is synonymous with mediation. As visual artists, Modan and Sacco each make certain presumptions about what we might call “neutral” perspective, most notably by their use of photo-realism. Additionally, “War Rabbit” and Footnotes also pursue neutrality at the verbal level. In various places, both comics compel readers to understand their visualizations as objective. As Thierry Groensteen observes in his formalist study Comics and Narration, “Comics has the unique capacity to be able to illustrate with the same force of conviction the ‘real,’ the imagined, the thought, and the felt—and in the transition from one panel to the next it can glide smoothly from an objective to a subjective register” (131). In Footnotes in Gaza and “War Rabbit,” that subjectivity is often aligned with historical witnesses and with the authors themselves. Depending on the artist, these transitions between depictions of “felt” and “real” events range in subtlety. Remarkably, images and captions that are deliberately and unambiguously subjective can function to establish the texts’ neutrality elsewhere. For instance, the panels in “War Rabbit” that show Rutu’s dream of a giant rabbit on the highway contrast with those depicting conversations between family members, implicitly casting the latter as more “real.”

Language is the most obvious mediating layer between subjective and objective representation. Whatever efforts the cartoonist makes to preserve direct quotations, interviewees’ speech is almost necessarily abbreviated to accommodate drawn images in comics’ visual-narrative form. In these two texts the problem of verbal selection is made all the more complicated by issues of translation. Sacco relies on his fixer, Abed, as his interpreter during interviews, a fact that he obscures in his self-representation. As seen in the above example, Sacco makes no visual distinction between language originally spoken in English and speech that has been translated for readers’ benefit.vii Readers can reasonably assume, for instance, that Bar-On speaks to Sacco in English, given Israel’s high English fluency and Bar-On’s career as a professor of history, but without a marked distinction between spoken languages Sacco negates the importance of translation. Likewise, in the book’s afterward Sacco claims to “have tried to be faithful to the words people used when they were interviewed, even though it meant reproducing choppy word choices” (417). Sacco only indirectly acknowledges that some of “the words people used” come to him through an interpreter. Whereas he directly states, “I cannot speak Hebrew. I had the help of two Israeli researchers,” Sacco does not even name the language spoken by the Palestinian interview subjects when he writes: “Abed [Elassouli] agreed to become my translator and guide” (418). In pages depicting the interviews Sacco draws himself speaking to witnesses and in the pages that follow he is shown reviewing tape recordings of those conversations, which suggest some level of Arabic fluency. Yet, one isolated panel depicts Abed interpret: “He [the Fedayeen leader] is asking us to return in the evening, after the fast” (41). If Sacco could not understand the request to return later in the day, his ability to understand historical accounts—even with the ability to replay the recordings—is an open question.

There are no issues of translation between authors and interview subjects in “War Rabbit,” as Modan and Sarna share the Hebrew language with the border town residents. However, the original Hebrew script of “War Rabbit” is unpublished. The two published versions, “War Rabbit” in English and “Haut Les Mains—Peau de Lapin” in French are both translated from Hebrew, the French version being the first published.8 Together the two versions of the text, translated into two different languages by different translators, demonstrate the ways the act of translation transforms meaning. The French version frequently omits phrases that appear in the English, such as the caption under Modan’s reproduced “Wandering Jew” painting: “Shmuel Hirschenberg was a painter in Lodz Poland, in 1900, during the pogroms. He painted the Eternal Jew fleeing a Valley of the Shadow of Death filled with corpses and crosses unto the hope of a national homeland as the only solution for the Jews. And here we are” (Modan 5, my emphasis). The italicized phrases indicate content absent in the French.9 Additionally, the differences between the French and English comic include differences in factual information, tone and metaphor. One factual discontinuity: the English version begins with Igal’s reminiscence, “We were a company of thirty tanks . . . ” a line that appears in French, “Nous etions trios [3] blindés” (7). The accompanying image indeed shows exactly three tanks.

Translation differences also produce a disparity in tone, which is less easily reconciled by the visual images. For instance, the second panel’s English caption “our commander spied a bunny coming out of the lettuce fields” lacks the humor of the French translation’s culinary punning on “chef” and “salades” (my emphasis). The joke does not translate into English, and so it is omitted.10 In other words, the translation from Hebrew to French produces a potentially unintended humorous tone.11 Thus, some of the differences across these two versions seem to follow unavoidably from linguistic patterns. Collective pronouns, constitute another, and perhaps more fundamental, example of the kinds of meaning the two languages allow: the French version often uses the third person collective singular pronoun “on,” which connotes “we” in some instances and in other places more directly indicates a general subject, “one”—while the English version of the text alternates between the first and second person plural pronouns “we” and “you” in these places.

Translated into English, these texts remind us that the words we read are not necessarily those first hand witnesses would choose, but this issue would need noting were they not translated from other languages. Word choice is not, of course, entirely free; as many rhetoricians attest, language both enables individual expression and confines it through available vocabulary and syntax. Investigating speech in comics requires a broader consideration of language itself. To further elaborate the relationship of individual character expression to language, I turn to Mihkail Bakhtin’s “Discourses in the Novel,” in which he develops his theory of “language conceived as ideologically saturated, language as a world view” (Bakhtin 271). Bakhtin is a productive antecedent for comics scholars, not only because his writing about narrative discourse so maps well onto comics, but also because his project was to argue for the unique value of the novel as art form—much as we are now invested in detailing comics’ value. Whereas the epic is told from a unified perspective (usually a narrator removed from the events depicted), Bakhtin argues that the novel is the first form in which characters speak individually. As Bakhtin observes of speaking subjects in prose novels, “The speaking person in the novel is always, to one degree or another, an ideologue, and his words are always ideologemes. A particular language in a novel is always a particular way of viewing the world” (333). Bakhtin’s observation that individual characters speak through particular ideologies applies well to comics, wherein a character’s “particular way of viewing the world” is represented verbally and visually.

Furthermore, Bakhtin’s concepts of heteroglossia and hybridity lend themselves to comics’ complex layers of signification. As discussed above, many of the people depicted in “War Rabbit” and Footnotes in Gaza narrate events that they learned about through others, but did not experience directly. Likewise, Joe Sacco, Rutu Modan and Igal Sarna visually and verbally narrate events they encounter indirectly through others’ accounts. Each act of recounting another’s stories is an act of “translation,” a joining of perspectives capable of transforming content and tone. Heteoglossia—Bakhtin’s term for the recounting of others’ speech—structures the novel-genre in such a way not found in other narrative literary forms (especially not so in the epic), but the overwhelming majority of common discourse is heteroglossic. Though the process is often unconscious, individual speech—and for that matter, individual thought—is borrowed and adapted from the words of others.12 In the novel, “An intentional and conscious hybrid is not a mixture of two impersonal language consciousnesses (the correlates of two languages) but rather a mixture of two individualized language consciousnesses (the correlates of two specific utterances, not merely two languages) and two individual language-intentions as well” (Bakhtin 360). If there is a difference between novels and comics in this regard, it is perhaps that this “double-voiced” narratological hybridization of individual consciousnesses is often actually triple or quadruple voiced, depending on the interplay of visual and verbal registers, as the above discussion of “War Rabbit” and Footnotes in Gaza reveals.

While it is important to recognize factors that bear on comics expression, analysis of linguistic mediation is not sufficient, because, as Bakhtin suggests, language amounts to a way of viewing the world: that is to say, an ideology of experience. Furthermore, like language, experience is constituted individually, but that individual formation operates through borrowing from and opposition to others’ expressions within a shared sociopolitical milieu. The complex narrative form of comics is particularly suited to reveal the ways cultural context inform individual perception and expression. Sacco and Modan’s visual and verbal representations of the Israel-Palestine conflict interrogate the relationship of individual, subjective perspective and language. Taken together, these works, which present ‘opposite sides’ of the conflict, reveal the contingency of historical knowledge on what we might term “collective subjectivity”: I offer this term to capture the ways individual subjects, like those depicted in Footnotes in Gaza and “War Rabbit” come to understand their experience through cultural lenses.

Contemporary rhetoric about Palestine/Israel is characterized by competing claims of victimhood and by the complicated status of group identities. Issues of subjectivity are especially relevant to representations of persecution, because those same identity categories bear on subjective knowledge. Together the concepts of subjectivity and persecution provoke many questions: Whose fear and grief are (or can be rendered) visible? Whose personhood matters enough for attacks on it to be recognized? Who is able to speak on behalf of others, and what claims to shared experience are intelligible? None of these questions has a universal answer, because there exists no universal language for expression, nor universal perception. These concerns are subjective issues in that individual perspective informs their answers, but those individual perspectives — or subjectivities— reflect many voices.

These concerns might seem to imply a Western audience. Indeed, the majority of Modan and Sacco’s intended readers are American or European. A subject of debate about Sacco’s work that applies well to “War Rabbit”, is the extent to which his representation of suffering exploits the people he depicts. As his pages emphasize, the act of retelling their stories to be recorded is in itself potentially re-traumatizing. In her analysis of human rights discourse in Footnotes in Gaza, Rebecca Scherr notes that relaying oppression to Western readers is an ethically dubious project if such knowledge transmission does not benefit the victims in question, and worse yet if the process is painful for the witnesses. Scherr contends, “Sacco’s work speaks to a reader’s sense of ethics and freedom, while the images of Palestinians are depicted as locked into cycles of violence and degradation” (195). This entrapped quality of being “locked into” violence naturalizes Palestinian suffering, presenting it as unavoidable and thus beyond reader intervention. Readers benefit from historical accounts of persecution, not only in that many actively enjoy them as aesthetic objects, but also because reading them satisfies an ethical imperative to care about others’ suffering with scant risk. Moreover, these accounts have the added benefit of inspiring Western gratitude for one’s own freedom and security.

Apprehending history as persecution depends upon discrete group identities: a class/race/creed of people willfully oppressed for their membership in said group and another class/race/creed whose shared identity is sutured through their dominance of the other. Ethical representation requires self-critical identity awareness as much as sympathy with history’s victims. The early-twenty-first-century proliferation of historical narratives in comics form follows a similar rise in historical narratives from the late-twentieth-century cinema, a period including such blockbusters as Mississippi Burning (1988) and Schindler’s List (1993). Describing cinema, that other form of popular visual-narrative history, Mark Golub argues that mainstream cinematic representations of historical suffering function not to promote introspection about the relevance of those historical events for contemporary viewers, but instead to frame the past in an “irresponsible” narrative of resolution. As many comics scholars have persuasively argued, comics are less likely to simplify the stories they tell than film, due to what Charles Hatfield aptly terms the many “tensions” at the heart of the form. Yet, Golub’s attention to the audience’s self-removal from historical responsibility is a worthy consideration when discussing comic readership as well. As Golub observes about what he terms “the Hollywood redemption history,” so-called “accurate” historical narratives can function to assuage spectator guilt and implicitly excuse “present injustices” while reaffirming the status-quo: “They allow the audience not to take responsibility for its past, even as their condemnation presents itself as an anti-racist narrative.” In Golub’s terms, responsible historical representation depends upon the audience’s relationship to the events depicted. We again find the issue of subjectivity paramount in the idea that the past belongs to a viewing audience. For a group to “take responsibility for its past” means, in the first place, to acknowledge ownership of the past. In most historical representation, whatever the medium, this ownership can only operate through group identification, as few audience members would have directly participated in the represented past.

Figure 6: “War Rabbit”, page 5.

In depicting the Palestine-Israel conflict from both sides of the border, the comics journalism of Footnotes in Gaza and “War Rabbit” together suggest that collective subjectivity and un-self-critical group identification greatly inhibit empathy. Joe Sacco’s Footnotes asks readers to imagine themselves in the role of Palestinian victim, but such identification contributes as much (or more) to a subjective sense of shared victimhood than it does to the assumption of moral responsibility. In contrast to Footnotes in Gaza, which only depicts events inside the Palestinian territories, Modan and Sarna take pains to draw parallels between the two national groups, including the comic’s emphasis on people, like rabbits, burrowing underground to tunnels and shelters. In “War Rabbit,” Igal Sarna refers to his personal history visiting bomb shelters and Gaza (when the border was open) and generalizes both groups’ experiences together, relying on his membership in one group and journalistic encounters with the other: “So now I’m stuck here, on the one side with the war and people being bombed to death and here on the other, people being scared to death. People are quaking in shelters too, and go argue with the fear of a refugee” (Modan & Sarna 5). This dialogue nearly fills the panel that contains it, otherwise bare save for Igal’s likeness and a steering wheel, aligning readers with Rutu Modan as she accompanies him to see the conflict for herself. This speech ostensibly presents disparity in Palestinian and Israeli suffering. The “war and people being bombed to death” are in Gaza, while Israeli settlers are only “scared to death.” Sarna appears to critique the irrational “fear of a refugee.” Yet, despite sympathy for Palestinian plight, Sarna privileges Israeli subjectivity, which is of course the national group with which he and Modan share membership, using it as a lens to understand both groups.

Empathy founded through claims to collective subjectivity is problematic when that collectivity functions to obscure difference, as is the case in “War Rabbit.” The panel immediately below Sarna’s dialogue appears to continue his speech, albeit as an unattributed caption: “On both sides of the border, we’re all refugees or the children of refugees, tribes crazy with suffering, just shooting at one another” (5). The loss of speech balloons in this bottom tier might signal a shift in narrative voice back to Modan, but the confusion this creates between Modan’s and Sarna’s individual perspectives (as speaking characters in the comic) as well as the ambiguous relationship of their authorial voice(s) to their self-portrayal exposes the inherently mediated quality of subjectivity. This page composition suggests that as individuals both authors, Sarna and Modan, endorse the statement’s subjectivity, including themselves in the collectivity it imagines between Palestinians and Israelis. Certainly it is credible that Modan and Sarna view the situation similarly due to their shared background, but the mere fact of co-authorship would suggest agreement between the two. Removed from an identified speaking subject, this caption attempts to extend the subjectivity of “we” to include Palestinians, not only as imagined members of shared community, but also as participants (speaking subjects) in that imagined collective subjectivity.

As comparison to Footnotes in Gaza highlights, most Palestinians would likely not appreciate this collectivist rhetoric, nor would they agree with the factual content. It is not my aim here to articulate the “truth” about the Israel-Palestine conflict, or otherwise adjudicate the facts of history, but the caption’s claim that the conflict is made up of “tribes crazy with suffering, just shooting at one another” defies credibility. In their efforts to portray similarity between the two national groups, Modan and Sarna markedly misrepresent each perspective, because both IDF spokespeople and those from Hamas are likely to claim military strategy rather than “crazy . . . suffering” as their chief motivation.13 Moreover, the phrase “just shooting at one another” implies that the violence is irrational and commensurate on both sides. This lack of causation is especially notable in contrast to the two grey-scale images of refugees, labeled “Europe Jews 1941” and “Israel Palestinians 1948” respectively. Presented side-by-side, the pictured Jews and Palestinians appear to move towards one another (to the center line that divides the two pictures), driven by forces unseen. The image of Jewish refugees alludes to the cause of their flight by including the Nazi regime mandated star of David on two of the men’s jackets. Noticeably absent is the fact that Palestinians became refugees fleeing Israeli settlers, in the 1948 formation of the Israeli state (“Nakba”).

“War Rabbit” is far from consistent in its sympathies. Taken alone, these images of refugees and accompanying caption conceive of Palestinian suffering only to the extent that it is imagined to be shared by both sides and without perpetrators. Yet, the comic form all-but requires readers to interpret individual panels together in what Thierry Groensteen terms “the system of comics.” Thus, panels that minimize Palestinian suffering and ignore Israel’s culpability must be reconciled with the sections of “War Rabbit” that overtly criticize such bias. Elsewhere, Igal laments that the Israeli media describe the situation as a violent conflict between equally matched rivals, “The tragedy is over there, but they’re not letting us [journalists] in, so every cat that goes missing over here gets a bigger headline than a hundred of their dead do” (Modan and Sarna 2).

Figure 7: “War Rabbit”, page 2

Similarly, the drawing that accompanies this speech critiques visual bias. Rutu holds a newspaper headlined, “Half a million Israeli’s under fire,” but the paper’s selected photograph depicts bombing—not in Israel—but in Gaza. Modan highlights the (fictitious) paper’s subterfuge twice-over: verbally, through Igal’s speech, “You see that? They put a picture of Gaza in the background,” and; visually with a much larger, more color-saturated image of the same war-scene in the panel at the page’s top right, clearly labeled, “Gaza, December 2008.” As authors and characters, Modan and Sarna seem to critique the exact kinds of bias they display in subsequent pages.

I argue that the comics medium has a marked formal potential for narratological dissonance, because its basic units of expression are always in “tension” (Hatfield). As mentioned above, “verbal and visual narratives that do not simply blend together, creating a unified whole,” but are rather what Hillary Chute terms “cross-discursive,” each register complicating the other. Likewise, the fractured structure of comics panels and “gutters” all but requires that the images and words in a given panel stand-apart from other panels in the same text. Of course, comics artists can—and often do—leverage visual repetition and stylistic consistency to overcome these tensions and create enveloping narrative worlds. Comics’ formal narratological dissonance is exacerbated, however, in “War Rabbit” by the fact that the narrative function is split between two authors, who are each present as characters as well. The competing subjectivities in “War Rabbit” are not simply a matter of multiple voices (or speaking subjects) ambiguously speaking together. As Bakhtin suggests, each speaking person—in real life as well as in novels—tries on the language of everyone he or she encounters, testing it and incorporating it: “In the everyday rounds of our consciousness, the internally persuasive word is half-ours and half-someone else’s” (Bakhtin 345). In other words, external consciousness becomes persuasive at the point when it is misapprehended as internal, because individual consciousness, which we apprehend as our own accurate awareness of the world, is always partially adapted from others.

The perspectival inconsistency found in “War Rabbit” reveals conflicts inherent to subjective perspective, expression and language. Individual expression strives to unify multiple viewpoints through language, but, by its association with language, perspective is far from unitary. In “War Rabbit,” which Rutu Modan describes as a portrayal of Israeli perspective, we find heteroglossia at the national level. I have suggested that in the text Modan and Sarna’s sympathies are unstable, at times lamenting disproportionate media attention to Israeli concerns to the neglect of Palestinians’ physical endangerment, yet elsewhere guilty of the same fallacy of equivalence. If the visual and verbal language expression in “War Rabbit” betrays competing sensibilities, it manifests tensions implicit to the cultural context of language itself. When Bakhtin writes that individual consciousness “is half-ours and half-someone else’s,” the “someone else” in question is a member of a shared social group, a speaking-subject positioned in such a way that his or her voice is heard. This “someone” need not be a person as such, but may be instead an imagined representative of national (or other) groups.

While national paradigms perhaps provide only a limited framework in late capital era globalization, “national identity” and “national language” are nonetheless useful, if overly simplistic, lenses for investigating the convergence of “individual” perception and cultural patterns of expression. Such an understanding of the internalized relationship of cultural expression informs International Policy scholar Mira Sucharov’s study of Israel’s self-identity as “defensive warrior.” Citing Israeli national propaganda and popular media Sucharov argues that in the first decades of its statehood, Israel formed a collective national identity around ideas of shared victimhood and just defense.14 This identity—known through cultural expression and understood as informing shared perception—faces a crisis by the 1980s, which Sakharov attributes to the war in Lebanon and the first Intifada. Both events disrupt the “defensive warrior” narrative: “During the Intifada, Israelis squirmed at the unconscious counter-narratives that were now coming to haunt them. A nation of defensive warriors had been turned into riot controllers and policemen battling unarmed Palestinians, many of whom were children. All of this added up to a deeply experienced cognitive dissonance at the collective level” (Sakharov 159). Although Sakharov may exaggerate the impact of this tension when she credits the Oslo Accords to Israel’s need for a stable “role-identity” over geopolitical forces such as US intervention, she persuasively demonstrates a mutual constituency between national language and individual perception.

I have suggested that comics’ formal fracturing of narrative perspective, via panel structure and the interplay between visual and verbal registers, can expose the limits of “subjectivity.” Taken together, “War Rabbit” and Footnotes in Gaza undermine the concept of individual experience by revealing the contingencies of both perception and expression. These pieces of comics journalism promote reader sympathy and understanding for the depicted personages, while showing the ways the subjects of the works—the individuals interviewed and depicted—are themselves limited in sympathy and understanding for others and constrained by cultural patterns of expression. I end this essay, accordingly, with the issue of readers’ own cultural biases. If, as I suggest above, experience and representation both depend on shared cultural knowledge and logic expressed in shared language, readers’ subjectivity must be likewise scrutinized: in what ways do my primary texts hail readers? Do these comics solicit readers to be aware of their own cultural biases?

It is impossible to account for the range of readership possible for Footnotes in Gaza and “War Rabbit,” but the authors of each certainly imagine Western readers without direct experience to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, an assumption evidenced by their American and European publishing venues. It is striking that “War Rabbit” has not been published in Israel, even as Sarna and Modan maintain large Israeli readerships in their respective work.15 If “War Rabbit,” asks readers to be aware of the cultural biases in world view and language that color their subjectivity as outsiders, this solicitation is wholly implicit. Writing for European and American audiences, Modan and Sarna’s self-criticism, even if it does extend to a criticism of Israeli society more generally, does not obviously implicate readers. As an account interpolated through an American perspective, Footnotes in Gaza does more to undermine the possibility of objectivity tout-court, but reader self-awareness likely follows identification with Sacco himself, whose image appears more than any other represented individual.

Sacco often casts himself as uniquely able to see truth, a truth he implicitly offers to readers. Sacco describes himself as the lone sympathizer amidst an uncaring world in investigating Khan Younis, “The world has already scraped last week off its shoe, and I want to poke at a story that’s half a century old?” (Sacco 7). Yet, as comics scholar Marc Singer aptly observes, Sacco frequently represents a “false posture of objectivity” grounded in the very journalistic conventions he elsewhere criticizes: “The viewlessness distances Sacco from his subjects and releases him from any obligation to comment on matters that trouble his own sympathies” (Singer 71 and 74). Singer notes this implicit bias in Sacco’s refusal to comment, in particular, on instances of violence by Palestinians. Elsewhere Sacco laments, “History can do without its footnotes . . . history shakes off some footnotes altogether . . . History has its hands full . . . History chokes on fresh episodes and swallows whatever old ones it can” (Sacco 9). The object of this critique is as vague as it is universal: pointing perhaps to the work of historians or to the onward march of events (as in the aphorism history repeats itself). Aligning his own perspective with impartial objectivity and launching his media critique against universalist ideas of “History” and “the world,” Sacco provides readers little motivation to examine their own subjective biases.

In other words, while Footnotes is self-aware of certain problems associated with investigating history, such as interviewing context and translation, the book often frames this as a challenge of transposing a particular Palestinian subjectivity into universal knowledge. Concealed by this framework of universalism is the real challenge of relaying one set of particular subjectivites—that of Palestinian massacre survivors—to another set of equally particular reader subjectivities. Yet, there is one episode, the chapter titled “Did You See Them?” near the end of Footnotes in Gaza, which intimates that Sacco’s American cultural background may produce fundamentally different perception than Palestinian subjectivity. Though he often positions his perspective on Palestinian suffering as more objective than “history” itself, Sacco reminds readers of his (and by extension their) Western subjectivity as it relates to the Iraq War of 2003. When his companions celebrate early Iraq War footage of “American dead on display . . . and close-ups of their wounds,” Joe Sacco does not share their intrigue.

Figure 8: Footnotes in Gaza, page 370.

Throughout Footnotes in Gaza, Sacco portrays his inquiries as invasive and painful, but ultimately necessary for the goal of historical truth. In this brief episode concerning American victims, Sacco turns away from violence, both as author and character. Shown huddled in a corner, Sacco narrates his perspective, “I balk . . . the footage of the bodies disturbs me” a disturbance never expressed about images of Palestinian mortality (370). Visually, too, the book evinces an uncharacteristic reluctance to represent, when the represented subjects are Americans. In captions the page refers to “American dead on display . . . and close-ups of their wounds,” but the panel borders exclude dead faces and the caption-boxes partially conceal those wounds (Sacco 370). Throughout the chapter, Abed and Sacco are greeted in the streets of Gaza with the question, “Did you see them?” For American readers this titular question provokes an ambivalent answer. The book’s panels indeed show readers images of captured American soldiers faces and partially portray their dead bodies. Yet, few Americans saw the footage itself, which was broadcasted by Al-Jazeera television, a channel reported to have had only “140,000 subscribers in the United States” (Richissin). This episode, more than any other in Footnotes, suggests that subjective discomfort makes certain kinds of perception unavailable. Much like US networks who found the footage too objectionable to broadcast, and much like Sacco who “balk[s]” at the experience, readers must reconcile received information to their own worldviews.

As a medium, comics articulate an essential relationship between perception and expression. From the simplest units of comics representation, panels, whose visual details operate through exclusions and emphasis, to the interplay of visual and verbal registers, comics narratology undermines the conceit of autonomous subjectivity. Even as the medium seems to invite caricature and archetypical characters, there remains a formal tension in expressive coherence, a coherence normally dependent on the reader. Rather than allowing/inviting readers to suture narratological tensions, such as competing sentiments across dialogue and disjunction at the visual and verbal levels, I argue that Joe Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza and Rutu Modan and Igal Sarna’s “War Rabbit” affirm a larger tension at the heart of subjective experience. As each comic text illustrates, perception and expression both filter through many voices.


[1] I note with irony that reviews of Modan’s graphic novels tend to discuss her work in terms of her own personal experience as a woman, an Israeli and/or descendent of Holocaust survivors.

[2] I will address translation issues between the French and English publications of “War Rabbit” below.

[3] As Marc Singer notes in his discussion of Joe Sacco’s comics journalism, “Common journalistic formulation, which reduces complex issues to two and only two highly polarized sides” often “excludes” the perspectives of those most directly affected by reported events (Singer 71).

[4] The tunnel ceiling in the comic image appears slightly higher than that in the above photograph, but this difference is negligible given the variation in real tunnel size.

[5] As the New York Times reported in May 2013, entrepreneurs have used the tunnels to smuggle KFC fried chicken. http://www.nyti…-outside.html?_r=0

[6] The other published records, including the UN report on Khan Younis, are included as addenda in Sacco’s Footnotes.

[7] While there is no formal convention for denoting translation in comics, the medium affords multiple options for doing so. For instance, one chapter of Jessica Abel’s La Perdida (2006) directly translates Spanish into English with “subtitles” below each panel. As Abel explains in her forward: “From chapter two on, however, the vast majority of dialogue is meant to be spoken in Spanish, so I dispensed with subtitles and simply ‘translated’ the dialogue. From then on, when characters are speaking in English, that fact will be indicated by .”

[8] Rosie Pinhas-Delpuech, the French translator also translated Modan’s The Property and Exit Wounds. The English translator, GH Freedman, does not have a similar history translating Modan’s work.

[9] “Shmouel Hirchenberg de Lodz, en Pologne, a dessiné, en 1900, le Juif errant fuyant les pogroms vers l’espoir national comme unique solution. Et voilà ce que ça donne.”

[10] “Le chef a vu un lapin bondir entre les salades, affolé par le bruit.”

[11] As noted above, there is no published Hebrew language version of “War Rabbit,” but Igal Sarna did share a Hebrew language script with me; the French version’s humor is not discernible in this script.

[12] “In the everyday rounds of our consciousness, the internally persuasive word is half-ours and half-someone else’s” (Bakhtin 345).

[13] In Footnotes, Sacco presents such claims in the words of military commanders on both sides of the conflict along with his extensive chronicling of Palestinian civilian testimony.

[14] Sucharov also alludes to the role of Hebrew language, hitherto reserved for religious use, in Israeli identity formation.

[15] Sarna writes for the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. He told me that he and Modan had high hopes for the French publication, which never materialized.

Works Cited

Abel, Jessica. La Perdida. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2006.

Akram, Fares. “Delivering KFC by Tunnel, Not Too Fast but Satisfying.” The New York Times, 15 May 2013. Accessed 11 Jan. 2016. http://www.nyti…world-outside.html

Bakhtin, M. M., “Discourse in the Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, edited by Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas, 1981, pp. 259-422.

Chute, Hillary, and Marianne DeKoven. “Introduction: Graphic Narrative.” Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 52, no. 1, 2006, pp. 767-18.

Chute, Hillary L. Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016.

Golub, Mark. “History Died for Our Sins: Guilt and Responsibility in Hollywood Redemption Histories.” Journal of American Culture, vol. 21, no. 3, 1998, pp. 23-45.

Groensteen, Thierry, and Ann Miller. Comics and Narration. Jackson: U of Mississippi, 2013. Photograph: Khalil Hamra/AP, 2009

Hatfield, Charles. “An Art of Tensions.” A Comics Studies Reader Edited by Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, Jacksonville, Fl: University Press of Mississippi, 2009, pp. 132-147.

Lewis, John, et al. March. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2013.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. HarperPerennial, 1994.

Modan, Rutu. Exit Wounds. Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2007.

—. The Property. Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2013.

Modan, Rutu, and Igal Sarna. “War Rabbit.” Words Without Borders. 2009. Accessed 25 Aug. 2015. http://www.word…hic-lit/war-rabbit.

—. “Haut Les Mains Peau de Lapin” Le Tour du Monde en Bande Dessinée: Vol 2. Edited by Vincent Bernière, Paris: Delcourt, 2010, pp. 7-19.

Munslow, Alun. Deconstructing History. London: Routledge, 1997.

Nichols, Bill. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991.

Richissin, Todd. “Arab TV Displays Bodies of U.S. Troops.” Baltimore Sun. 24 Mar. 2003. Accessed 12 Jan. 2016. http://articles…-soldiers-captured.

Sacco, Joe. Footnotes in Gaza. New York: Metropolitan, 2009.

—. Journalism. New York: Metropolitan / Henry Holt, 2012.

Sarna, Igal. Skype Interview. 28 Apr. 2016.

Scherr, Rebecca. “Joe Sacco’s Comics of Performance.” The Comics of Joe Sacco: Journalism in a Visual World Edited by Daniel Worden, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015, pp. 184-200.

Singer, Marc. “Views from Nowhere: Journalistic Detachment in Palestine.” The Comics of Joe Sacco: Journalism in a Visual World, Edited by Daniel Worden. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015, pp. 67-82.

Sobel, Marc. “The Rutu Modan Interview.” The Comics Journal. 29 May 2013. Accessed 5 Oct. 2015.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus. New York: Pantheon, 1986.

Sucharov, Mira M, and Sucharov, Mira. International Self: Psychoanalysis and the Search for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Ithaca: State University of New York Press, 2005.

Woo, Benjamin. “Reconsidering Comics Journalism: Information and Experience in Joe Sacco’s Palestine.” The Rise and Reason of Comics and Graphic Literature: Critical Essays on the Form edited by Joyce Goggin and Dan Hassler-Forest, Jefferson: McFarland, 2010 pp. 166-177.

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