A comics journalist chronicles the struggles of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh

01 January, 2012

IN 2010, the American journalist and cartoonist Joe Sacco, unquestionably the world’s foremost practitioner of what he calls “comics journalism”, came to India with an assignment from a French magazine to produce a long-form feature on rural poverty.

It would be difficult to overstate Sacco’s stature in the two worlds he straddles as a cartoonist and a reporter: over the past 20 years, he has pioneered an entirely new form of graphic storytelling, travelling into conflict zones as a journalist and then recreating them as a visual artist, producing a series of stand-alone reports and a handful of books widely regarded as masterpieces: Palestine, a narrative of his journeys and encounters in the Palestinian territories after the first Gulf War; Safe Area Gorazde, about the end of the Bosnian War; and Footnotes in Gaza, on the legacy of two long-forgotten massacres from the early years of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sacco turned his attention to India, he says, out of a desire to step back from war and conflict, and to test himself in a country where he had never worked. He decided to focus his attention on Uttar Pradesh, and set out—with the assistance of Piyush Srivastava, a Lucknow-based journalist—to gather the stories of poor Dalit villagers in Kushinagar district, along the border with Bihar.

The resulting comic, which appears in English for the first time in this special issue of The Caravan, puts all of Sacco’s astonishing talents as a journalist and artist on display, plunging the reader into a perceptive, unsentimental and exquisitely rendered account of a tragic reality that we all claim to know but too rarely see with fresh eyes.