Joe Sacco's latest

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Nov 3 08:33:18 MST 2003

Looks Like a Job for "The Fixer"
Joe Sacco's latest work of comix-journalism
Time Magazine, Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

The best journalism contains some art and the best art contains some 
journalism. Any nonfiction report on the world around us needs some art, in 
the form of narrative or metaphor or linguistics, to bring life to mere 
facts. Concurrently any work of art worthy of the name will report 
something new (either in content or form) to the audience. Joe Sacco, 
intrepid cartoonist, has been snooping around the borderlands between these 
disciplines for several years. His first important series, "Palestine," 
(1995) about life in the holy land during the first Intefada, gave us 
something radically new: a comic book that was immediately relevant to the 
real world. His next project, the graphic novel "Safe Area Gorazde," (2000) 
gave vision to otherwise unrecorded atrocities of the Balkans war of the 
early nineties. Now at last Sacco has come out with a new hardcover book, 
"The Fixer: A Story from Sarajevo" (Drawn & Quarterly; 108 pp.; $24.95), 
his most refined work of reportorial art yet.

"The Fixer" focuses on a foreign war correspondent necessity — the shady 
local who takes you to the hot spots, translates, and generally greases the 
wheels. Sacco's fixer is Neven, who he meets in a hotel lobby in 1995. At 
the time the Serb nationalist siege of the city was slowly lifting but 
sniping remained a terrifying constant. Sacco's greeting at the reception 
desk was to be shown a map and told, "This is the hotel. This is the front 
line. Don't ever walk here." Sacco needs Neven to introduce him to people 
with a story to tell. Neven needs Sacco because the foreign press has 
mostly abandoned Sarajevo now that the major fighting is over.

Unlike Sacco's previous books, where he illustrates the stories of various 
people he interviews, "The Fixer" uses one individual who personifies a 
particular place. Neven, a native Sarajevan born to a Muslim mother and 
raised by a Serbian father, constitutes the traditional cosmopolitaness of 
that once most tolerant city. The mark of the Sarajevan, Neven says, is "a 
mixture of so many things: a love of art; a love of other people; and an 
amount of sarcasm and irony." Sacco, in counterpoint, accompanies this 
mythic passage with a full-page image of a dark, lifeless, abandoned space 
between blasted out buildings. Through Neven's personal history Sacco gives 
us the inside story of fighting against the Serbs during the siege. This 
job fell to loosely associated, legalized gangs headed by popular warlords. 
Trained in the Yugoslav army as a sniper, Neven joins a paramilitary unit 
made up of "distinguished sportsmen, all-in-all criminals, or a little bit 
of both," and commanded by Ismet Bajramovic, AKA Celo, a violent, handsome 
ex-convict with intense charisma.

Sacco gives us the history of these morally ambiguous warlords who he 
describes as "military pop idols." While defending the city they confiscate 
storehouses, evict Muslims from their homes, conscript citizens by gunpoint 
and are eventually implicated in massacres and "ethnic cleansing." Neven 
adds his own story to these, like the time he shot an enemy through his gun 
holster while falling backwards. Or did he? Sacco parallels his increasing 
doubts about the authenticity of Neven's tales while getting deeper into 
the warlord's atrocities. By the end, "The Fixer" becomes as much about the 
haziness and relative importance of the truth as about the history of the 
Sarajevo siege.


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