Sunday, 15 February 2015

Bumf, Volume 1: I Buggered the Kaiser by Joe Sacco Review

Joe Sacco is the acclaimed, Eisner Award-winning cartoonist of Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde, and several noteworthy non-fictional comics on real world conflicts. More recently he released the extraordinary work The Great War, a 24-foot panoramic look at the first day of the Battle of the Somme. So it’s surprising - in a good way - to see that he’s really gone in the other direction for Bumf, Volume 1, subtitled I Buggered the Kaiser!

The double splash page at the start pretty much sets the tone: a young boy gives a priest a blowjob while some guy gets shot in the head. Taste and subtlety are out the window for this relentless satire on… the Obama administration? 

It’s a satire on something and a lot of the issues touch on Obama’s America (who is portrayed throughout as Nixon) but there’s a lot of targets here that include Bush 2’s administration, the prominence of religion in politics, the increase of paranoia and fear in Western culture, and the unstoppable military industrial complex. 

That’s partly the problem of Bumf - Sacco is going all out but he’s targeting so many things that he lacks focus on any one thing. There’s that and tone. The first story looks to be set in WW1 and a deranged general decides to try a new strategy: get every soldier naked, give them massive erections by staring at a photo of his bum, and then charging towards the Germans en masse to bugger them all! 

Bizarre crude comedy then morphs into horror as we see the victims of a firebombing raid burning alive, and then we’re into critiques on religion, the surveillance state, drone attacks, and Guantanamo torture victims. Then later we switch from political commentary to a weird love story between two prisoners with bags over their heads, then we’re in space and… 

Sacco’s spraying bullets everywhere and only occasionally nailing a target. Torture has become disturbingly normalised, while drone attacks are a terrifying development in warfare, removing the human element entirely for the controllers making it easier to kill. The proliferation of digital media and the internet has led to a spate of hacks on personal information leading to a more paranoid contemporary mindset and, unfortunately, Obama wasn’t the major change everyone hoped he would be when he was elected (though I still think generally he’s been a force for good). 

The rest of it? It’s a rambling, uneven quasi-narrative that goes off on some very strange tangents more than once. Even Sacco becomes a character, “directing” the President in his speech after bombing a group of civilians from his bed. Stringing together a bunch of political cartoons and hoping for them to hang together isn’t the best approach to a book and it doesn’t really work here. 

Sacco’s art throughout is fantastic, as it always is, and the splash page showing the trench warfare of WW1 is a taste of his ambitious work in The Great War. That and the religious orgy are the standouts as the most accomplished pieces though all of the pages are drawn in very high quality. The art is definitely much better than the scattershot writing/story.

Bumf is an interesting satirical comic that by turns amuses, horrifies and bores but doesn’t add up to much. It’s not wholly convincing as an indictment of Obama’s terms in office but Sacco’s righteous anger at… many things, is palpable. It’s worth a look for being such an unusual, edgy comic from a brilliant cartoonist, though it’s not among Sacco’s best work.

Bumf, Volume 1: I Buggered the Kaiser

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