Inkers and Thinkers 2014: Graphic Representations of Translation, Cultural Exchange and Journalistic Practice in Joe Sacco’s Comics Journalism by Brigid Maher

The work of Joe Sacco was another popular topic at Inkers and Thinkers 2014 and Brigid Maher provided a look at how Sacco’s comics journalism also represents an act of reflection on journalistic practice and the role of foreign journalists in conflict zones.


Graphic Representations of Translation, Cultural Exchange, and Journalistic Practice in Joe Sacco’s Comics Journalism


Joe Sacco’s comics journalism is unique in the way it uses various features of the comics medium to shed light upon journalistic practice, reporter subjectivity, and the role of language and translation in the news-gathering process. Journalists and foreign correspondents often work in a multilingual environment, dealing on a daily basis with problems of translation and cultural difference. Yet accounts of these challenges rarely reach consumers of news and reportage; in the case of print journalism, in particular, there is a preference for a finished product that presents information and analysis exclusively in the target language, with all trace of translation and mediation hidden in the background.

In Sacco’s work on the conflicts in Palestine and Bosnia, however, the multimodal nature of comics is exploited to full effect, incorporating multiple voices and perspectives in such a way as to present the complexities of working in a multilingual environment, with translators, interpreters, fixers, and wider a network of more informal contacts. Comics also lend themselves to irony, through the contrast between different textual and/or graphic representations of a given scene, and Sacco uses this technique in an ironic critique of his own struggles as a cultural outsider seeking to understand complex debates on sensitive and divisive issues. The medium also allows him to create a visual juxtaposition between objectivity, on the one hand, and the journalist’s inner state, particularly his doubts and fears, on the other.

All these carefully deployed features of comics allow Sacco to take readers beyond the illusion of unmediated research and reporting towards a more nuanced depiction of the involvement of different stakeholders in the newsgathering process. By synthesizing the written word and the graphic image, the journalistic and the socio-cultural, Sacco’s work sheds light on the complex role foreign journalists have in a community in conflict: they bring outside influences, power, wealth, and status, but also compassion and a sense of humor. At the same time, Sacco depicts the problematic aspects of this relationship, exploring his own vulnerability and naivety as he weighs up the obligations of friendship against the demands of his profession.



Dr Brigid Maher is Lecturer in Italian Studies at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. She is the author of Recreation and Style: Translating Humorous Literature in Italian and English (John Benjamins, 2011), and co-editor of Words, Images and Performances in Translation (with Rita Wilson, Continuum, 2012) and Perspectives on Literature and Translation: Creation, Circulation, Reception (with Brian Nelson, Routledge, 2013). She has published in a number of journals in the fields of literary studies, Italian studies, and translation studies. Her research interests include humour, irony and satire in literature; crime fiction; and the translation of literature, comics, and film.

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