Oxford’s Rothermere American Institute Book Club lands Joe Sacco, talking “Paying the Land”

Paying the Land by Joe Sacco

If you’re a fan of the work of graphic journalist Joe Sacco, then don’t miss out on an opportunity to hear him talk on Thursday, a free online event hosted by the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford University and American Studies at the University of Sussex.

Discussion will centre on Joe Sacco’s latest book of graphic journalism, Paying the Land, published last year, about the Dene people in the Northwest Territories in Canada, described by Aida Edemariam in The Guardian last year as “a triumph of empathy”.

Paying the Land by Joe Sacco
Paying the Land by Joe Sacco

In his first full-length work of journalism in a decade, the “heir to R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman” (as described by The Economist) brings his comics mastery to a story of indigenous North America, resource extraction, and our debt to the natural world.

The Dene have lived in the vast Mackenzie River Valley since time immemorial, by their account. To the Dene, the land owns them, not the other way around-it is central to their livelihood and their very way of being. But the subarctic Canadian Northwest Territories are also home to valuable natural resources, including oil, gas and diamonds. With mining came jobs and investment-but also road-building, pipelines and toxic waste, which scarred the landscape; and alcohol, drugs, and debt, which deformed a way of life.

Paying the Land by Joe Sacco

In Paying the Land, Joe Sacco travels the frozen North to reveal a people in conflict over the costs and benefits of development. Resource extraction is only part of Canada’s colonial legacy: Sacco recounts the shattering impact of a residential school system that aimed to remove the Indian from the child; the destructive process that drove the Dene from the bush into settlements and turned them into wage labourers; the government land claims stacked against the Dene Nation; and their uphill efforts to revive a wounded culture.

Against a vast and gorgeous landscape that dwarfs all human scale, Paying the Land lends an ear to trappers and chiefs, activists and priests, telling a sweeping story about money and dependency, loss and culture, with stunning visual detail by one of the greatest comics reporters alive.

Paying the Land by Joe Sacco

Joe Sacco is a Maltese-American comic book artist and journalist whose work is a compelling combination of eyewitness reportage and graphic art storytelling techniques. His previous works include Palestine (1996), Safe Area Goražde (2000), The Fixer (2003), Footnotes in Gaza (2009), and The Great War (2013), and he is the recipients of prizes including the American Book Award, the Eisner Award and the Ridenhour Book Prize.

Joe Sacco. Photo: Michael Tierney
Joe Sacco. Photo: Michael Tierney

Chaired by Alice Kelly (RAI/Sussex), also aboard for the discussion will be Hillary Chute, the distinguished Professor of English and Art + Design, Northeastern University, and New York Times Graphic Content Columnist, and Paul Andrew, former Dene Chief and CBC broadcaster.

The panel will discuss the book with the author, followed by a Q & A session with the audience, and is open to all.

• RAI Book Club: Joe Sacco’s Paying the Land (2020) Thursday 27 May, 5pm – 6.15pm, online via Zoom | Register for the event here to receive the webinar link | Please send any questions about the event to comms@rai.ox.ac.uk

There’s no need to have read the book in advance, but if you would like to buy a copy, the Institute has partnered with Blackwell Oxford to offer the book at a discounted rate here

• The Rothermere American Institute is online at rai.ox.ac.uk

American Studies at the University of Sussex

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