The cover of Joe Sacco’s satirical comic “Bumf” shows a hooded figure wearing a black suit with an Obama campaign button and, Moses-like, clutching two large stone tablets. But each commandment has been replaced by the word “CLASSIFIED.” The Twin Towers explode in the background like two Fourth of July firecrackers, and in the bottom left corner is an inset drawing of Richard Nixon—wearing the same Obama campaign button. Nixon’s thought bubble says: “MY NAME IS BARACK OBAMA … AND I APPROVE THIS MESSAGE.”
Sacco, with whom I wrote my last book, “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt,” has produced graphic journalistic masterpieces such as “Footnotes in Gaza,” one of the finest works on the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. He is also a brilliant satirist. And “Bumf” is a radical, savage and hilarious comic. Its main title is slang for toilet paper and also refers to superfluous documents and publicity material that is destined for recycling or the trash. “Bumf” is a good word for the mindless information—the results of opinion polls, celebrity trivia, sports and empty chatter—that dominates mainstream journalism.
“Bumf” plays on themes found in Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” in which war, violence, military culture and sexual deviancy intertwine. It is in the vein of Robert Crumb’s ribald underground comic art in ZAP Comix and the Weirdo anthologies, as well as the work of the cartoonist Chester Brown, who created a character, Ed the Happy Clown, whose penis is topped with the miniature talking head of Ronald Reagan. This subversive art, largely abandoned by established writers and artists, shatters our perceptions of reality. It excoriates the motives and goals of the powerful. And, in a time of corporate totalitarianism, it is one of the last windows of truth.