Writer & Artist: Joe Sacco
Release Date: November 2, 2014
You might guess from its cover, featuring the Twin Towers aflame, a hooded man carrying redacted versions of the 10 Commandments and Nixon proclaiming “My name is Barack Obama… And I approve this message,” that Bumf is not a traditional Joe Sacco book. The Eisner Award-winning cartoonist is recognized as a serious journalist, focused on producing complex, well-researched portraits of areas in crisis, evidenced by Footnotes in Gaza and Safe Area Gorazde. The word “bumf,” on the other hand, is English slang for toilet paper, or, more metaphorically, useless documents. One can imagine that Sacco’s journalistic process to spread the truth combined with the continuing, depressing state of the world would require an outlet for a geo-political induced rage. So here it is.
The phrase “equal opportunity offender” usually connotes a kind of depoliticized cynicism, but this slim book of sex and violence (and violent sex and sexy violence) doesn’t suggest that Sacco has given up on his primary task. Instead, it’s both a howl of outraged liberalism — as angry at the Democrats and their failures as the Republicans — and sharp-edged Juvenalian satire. Drones and Abu Ghraib, the NSA and illegal detentions all receive equal play. Sacco appears as a character, much as he does in his earlier works, but takes himself to task as seriously as any other target. In dialogue with one character (part Dick Cheney, part Rahm Emanuel, part turkey), he shows himself seduced to the dark side by flattery and promised power. Dialogue like “We need someone with the gravitas that only a graphic novelist can bring” reverberates with bitter self-awareness.
There’s a freedom at work within the page composition and linework, too; larger panels and smaller pages reflect the speed with which much of the book was drawn. The volume’s second half only took three or four months to produce, a departure from the slower pace at which Sacco usually works. Still, his composition remains careful and complex, full of patternwork and edge-of-frame details, if broader than normal. Ultimately, this compendium is infused with an anarchic spirit that calls MAD Magazine to mind as much as Jonathan Swift. It would be easy to become distracted by the copious amounts of flesh on display and dismiss the work as mere provocation (and satire is, to some extent limited, as a means of political advocacy), but Sacco’s combination of filthy literal content with filthy moral content rings intelligent, expressive and necessary, perfect for today’s mired political landscape.