The twin towers are aflame, the Ten Commandments have been redacted, Richard Nixon is pretending to be Barrack Obama, and that is just the cover.
In the more mainstream press, Joe Sacco is renowned for his war journalism comics, which is quite simply a form of graphic novel that deals with real word subjects and issues presented in comics form. It is also a form of autobiographical comic, as Sacco lived in the war zones from which he reported. Footnotes in Gaza, Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde are all exceptional pieces of highly emotive journalism and sequential art, but Joe Sacco began his career as an underground ComiX satirist, the very definition of “equal opportunity offender” with a no holds barred style.
Bumf, a slang word for toilet paper, is a return to Sacco’s roots and it is a veritable fully-loaded shock to the system, and yes, the Kaiser (presumably Wilhelm the second) does get royally buggered as part of a General’s plan to boost morale. There is a line in the sand, and then there is going beyond that line; Sacco has aimed for an even million miles away.
The problem with Bumf is not its extreme nature, it is its lack of “equal offending.” Sacco has aimed his impressive guns at the American Liberal ideal, and its failures to reign in the American right, whereas the satirical Sacco of old, would have aimed at the failings of both. He does also aim one of his talented barrels at himself. One choice moment involves his metaphorical seduction by the dark side – lines of dialogue such as “We need somebody with the gravitas that only a graphic novelist can bring” show a fair amount of self-awareness from Sacco, but in some ways undermine the legitimate respect he has earned with his journalistic works.
There is unequivocal anger in these pages, and the Republicans are shown at their most extreme; oddly, the highlight of the book is the*ahem* romantic element. In the sharpest satirical sequence I have read in some time, a woman goes to the grocery store, she has no phone, no credit history, and no ambition; on top of that, she pays for her groceries with cash! The NSA is so paranoid and confused by this event that they do not know what she is thinking, or planning, she is essentially an “information gap.” Naturally, the only thing for the NSA to do is to kidnap her and find out what she knows. After investigating, her kidnappers explain that, because she was a blank slate, she missed several benefit payments and they have since done all the paperwork necessary to make sure she receives them. Thankful despite being tortured, over the remaining course of the book, she falls in love with one of her kidnappers: “At first they seemed an unlikely pair. She was covered in her own filth; he had been abusing her for weeks.” If only 50 Shades of Grey contained the same poignancy when describing an abusive relationship, which in Saccho’s eyes is certainly a metaphor for a surveillance society.
The art is certainly striking, grotesque, and free flowing, the composition and line work seems to indicate a degree of speed, and Sacco manages to make wearing clothes the exception, rather than the norm, to the extent that you become partially desensitised to the nudity. It is possible I have seen more genitalia in the course of reading this book than I have in my entire life.
Bumf has an impressive spirit of anarchy to it and deconstructs the current American political landscape with a sharp, if sometimes misguided, wit coupled with a visual ferocity that you would not forget any time soon. Bumf is not for everybody, but it is definitely for somebody and arduous enough to recommend for its sheer bite.
David M Graham