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Ridenhour Prize goes, for first time, to graphic novel

March 18, 2010 |  9:10 am

Footnotes in Gaza

For the first time, the Ridenhour Book Prize will be given to a graphic novel. On Monday, it was announced that Joe Sacco's "Footnotes in Gaza" will win the $10,000 award, which will be presented in April in Washington, DC.

Ron Ridenhour was the Vietnam Veteran whose 1969 letter to Congress and the Pentagon brought the My Lai massacre to light. Ridenhour went on to have a successful career as an investigative journalist until his death in 1998, at age 52. The Ridenhour prizes -- a book prize, a career prize and a prize for truth-telling -- are awarded to those who work in his tradition, striving to "protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society."

Sacco, Reed Johnson wrote in the LA Times, is carrying forward a tradition of empathetic, morally driven journalistic novelists including Balzac, Dickens and Upton Sinclair. His  "Footnotes in Gaza," is "built around two forgotten incidents (the 1956 mass killings of Palestinians in Rafah and Khan Younis)," David L. Ulin wrote in his review. "[I]t is a book that digs deep, exploring the relationship of past and present, memory and experience -- rigorously reported yet always aware of the elusive nature of testimony, the way that stories solidify and harden over time."

But Sacco's work has drawn fire from some who feel it takes sides. Jose Alaniz of the University of Washington told the Associated Press, “Very often he will pick angles in his artwork that favor the perspective of the victim: He'll draw Israeli soldiers or settlers from a low perspective to make them more menacing and towering."

That perspective is deliberate, but should not be oversimplified. "I do want to bring Palestinian voices to the fore," Sacco told Johnson. "Which isn't to say I'm going to sugarcoat the Palestinians." 

Sacco's "Footnotes in Gaza" is also a finalist for the inaugural graphic novel LA Times Book Prize.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image credits: Illustrations by Joe Sacco. "Footnotes in Gaza" published by Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Co.