Sacco, Joe 1960–
Sacco, Joe 1960–
PERSONAL: Born 1960, in Malta; immigrated to United States. Education: University of Oregon, B.A., 1981.
ADDRESSES: Home—Queens, NY. Agent—Author Mail, c/o Fantagraphics Books, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.
CAREER: Artist and writer. Artwork exhibited in galleries, including University of Buffalo Art Gallery. Comics coeditor, Portland Permanent Press, 1985–86.
AWARDS, HONORS: Harvey Award, Small Publishers Expo, and American Book Award, both 1996, both for Palestine; nominations for two Ignatz Awards, Small Publishers Expo, 1998.
NONFICTION COMIC BOOKS
Yahoo, Fantagraphics (Seattle, WA), 1994.
War Junkie, Fantagraphics (Seattle, WA), 1995.
Palestine, (originally published as a nine-issue comics series, 1993–1996), Volume 1: A Nation Occupied, Volume 2: In the Gaza Strip, Fantagraphics (Seattle, WA), 1996.
(Contributing illustrator) Harvey Pekar, American Splendor on the Job, Dark Horse (Portland, OR), 1997.
Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia, 1992–1995, introduction by Christopher Hitchens, Fantagraphics (Seattle, WA), 2000.
The Fixer: A Story from Sarajevo, Drawn and Quarterly (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
Notes from a Defeatist, Fantagraphics (Seattle, WA), 2003.
(Author of introduction) Eric Drooker, Blood Song: A Silent Ballad, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.
Also wrote Centrifugal Bumble Puppy and Spotlight on the Genius That Is Joe Sacco.
Artist and author of comic strip "Painfully Portland," Willamette Week. Contributor to periodicals, including Buzzard, Comics Journal, Drawn and Quarterly, Prime Cuts, and Real Stuff. Work represented in anthologies, including Zero Zero, Fantagraphics, 1997.
SIDELIGHTS: Joe Sacco is an artist and writer who describes himself in Time as "a really good cartoonist who does journalism." Sacco was born in Malta in 1960, and he spent much of his childhood in Australia before arriving in the United States. He studied journalism at the University of Oregon, and after graduating in 1981 held editorial positions in Los Angeles and Portland and worked on a comic book titled Centrifugal Bumble Puppy. In the late 1980s he accompanied a rock band on a tour of Europe, and after the tour ended he settled in Germany. Around this time, he began producing Yahoo, a comic book described by Richard Gehr in a Voice Literary Supplement article as "refreshingly weird." Sacco's work in Yahoo includes "In the Company of Long Hair," an account of his rock tour of Europe, and "When Good Bombs Happen to Bad People," a tale of air strikes. "In a cold, cruel world," wrote Gehr, "Sacco's brain turns out to be one of the most frightened and frustrated places around." War Junkie, another of Sacco's early books, won him recognition in Publishers Weekly as an artist and writer whose "graphic inventiveness and storytelling ability are always vivid and hilariously candid."
Sacco eventually returned briefly to the United States, then headed back to Germany before traveling to the Middle East, where he studied the plight of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. "I went there specifically to write comic books about it," he told Kathleen E. Bennett in an article in Drizzle. "I went there specifically to do interviews and just do this whole journalistic thing."
Palestine is a two-volume account of Sacco's experiences in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Assessing the first volume, A Nation Occupied, Heidi Olmack wrote in the Utne Reader, "Sacco uses the comic book format to its fullest extent." She called the book "a frantic scrapbook of snapshots, newspaper stories, history briefings, and high-action drama." Another reviewer, Tom Crippen, wrote in the Voice Literary Supplement that Sacco's work possesses the "immediacy and visual energy of a movie," and added that "he's excellent at composition and layout." Dick Doughty, assessing both A Nation Occupied and In the Gaza Strip, declared in the Journal of Palestine Studies that "Sacco has penned a vivid and substantial pair of books." Gordon Flagg in Booklist praised the creator of In the Gaza Strip as "a top-rank talent who has staked out a unique place for himself in the comics world." Ty Burr, meanwhile, wrote in Entertainment Weekly that "Sacco's realistic cartooning style fits the story," and a Publishers Weekly critic affirmed that Sacco "has produced a fascinating … account as impressive for its idiosyncratic personal tone as for its scrupulous documentation."
After working in the Middle East, Sacco traveled to Bosnia, the center of a multi-faction conflict involving Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. "I spent a lot of time sit-ting in cafes and bars talking," he recalled for Chris Hedges in the New York Times. "It's not high-powered. If people talk about rock music, I talk about rock music. I am interested in what people care about, what they think about, and this gives me an ability to enter the world they live in."
Sacco's experiences in Bosnia inspired Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia, 1992–1995, which includes recollections of genocidal atrocities committed by Serb nationalists. Joel Stein, reviewing the book in Time, said that "though Sacco hasn't made the logistics of the conflict much easier to comprehend, his detailed, personal reporting does show how nationalism can lead once friendly neighbors to burn one another's houses." A Publishers Weekly critic proclaimed the book "an extraordinary work of both journalism and comics nonfiction," and added that it is "almost overwhelming." Another critic, Gordon Flagg, wrote in Booklist of the work's "undeniable power," and Claude Lalumière wrote in January that the book "delivers … a perspective and texture no other journalistic form could have captured." Lalumière added, "Sacco's powerful book is a moving plea for us all to stop behaving like psychopathic idiots."
The Fixer: A Story from Sarajevo, published in 2003, revisits the Balkan theme. The story's "fixer" is Neven, "one who, for cash, leads foreign journalists through the fragmented postwar landscape and sniffs out the grittiest 'underground' news stories for them," noted Emily Lloyd in School Library Journal. In an interview with Calvin Reid for Publishers Weekly Sacco explained that "using [Neven] allowed me to tell the story of how journalists often have to rely on totally uncreditable people who have their own agendas." "In his way he took me under his wing, and I appreciated that because he was a tough guy and I was a little afraid when I was there. It was good to be around this guy because it felt like his street credibility was rubbing off on me on some level. It wasn't until later that I learned he didn't have street credibility with everyone," Sacco added in an interview with Kristine McKenna in LA Weekly. "His art combines detailed, realistic background with somewhat more cartoony figures," Steve Raiteri observed in Library Journal. Gordon Flagg, in Booklist, found that "Sacco's mastery of the comics medium allows him to present a story as detailed as any print journalism and more expressive than the most adept film documentary."
Sacco's work has been exhibited in various galleries and institutions, including the University of Buffalo. Patricia Donovan, in the University of Buffalo Reporter, acknowledged that Sacco "is considered one of the absolute cream of the crop of alternative and underground cartoonists," and a writer for the University of Buffalo Art Gallery noted that Sacco's works "address the complexities of life … and record voices from the margins as an act of present-tense history-making."
"I take lots of photos for reference; otherwise I do what any reporter does," said Sacco describing his technique for Flagg of Booklist. "I do lots of interviews; I keep a journal and look for stories. When I return home I index my notes, write the story and begin to draw. I don't draw much in the field, maybe some sketches. In the field it's about getting to know people." In LA Weekly Kristine McKenna asked Sacco about his influences. He said: "Robert Crumb and Brueghel the Elder—he's a big influence on me. I love the solidity of the people in his paintings, and his work provides a window into daily life in Flanders during the 16th century in a way the Italian Renaissance simply doesn't. When I first got to Gorazde, it looked like the Middle Ages because there were hardly any cars running and the electricity was mostly off, and I thought, 'Wow! I can draw just like Brueghel!' I really got into drawing people doing things like chopping wood."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 1996, Gordon Flagg, review of Palestine, Volume 2: In the Gaza Strip, p. 775; June 1, 2000, Gordon Flagg, review of Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia, 1992–1995; February 1, 2003, Gordon Flagg, review of Notes from a Defeatist, p. 969; December 15, 2003, Gordon Flagg, review of The Fixer: A Story from Sarajevo, p. 735
Entertainment Weekly, October 7, 1994, Ty Burr, review of Palestine, Volume 1: A Nation Occupied, p. 71.
Journal of Palestine Studies, winter, 1998, Dick Doughty, reviews of Palestine, Volumes 1 and 2.
LA Weekly, January 2-8, 2004, "Brueghel in Bosnia, Kristine McKenna Talks with Graphic Journalist Joe Sacco."
Library Journal, March 1, 2004, Steve Raiteri, review of The Fixer: A Story from Sarajevo.
New York Times, June 1, 1997, Chris Hedges, "A Cartoonist Sketches the Outline of Bosnia's Path," p. 4.
Publishers Weekly, August 29, 1994, review of Palestine, Volume 1, p. 71; June 12, 1995, review of War Junkie, p. 58; June 12, 2000, review of Safe Area Gorazde, p. 60; November 24, "PW Talks with Joe Sacco," interview with Calvin Reid, p. 56.
School Library Journal, May, 2004, Emily Lloyd, review of The Fixer: A Story from Sarajevo, p. 178.
Time, May 1, 2000, Joel Stein, "What's Going On?"
Utne Reader, March-April, 1995, Heidi Olmack, review of Palestine, Volume 1, p. 111.
Voice Literary Supplement, Richard Gehr, "But Enough about You …," pp. 28-29; October, 1995, Tom Crippen, review of Palestine, Volume 1, p. 12.
Drizzle, http://www.drizzle.com/ (December 1, 2001), Kathleen E. Bennett, "Joe Sacco's Palestine: Where Comics Meets Journalism."
University of Buffalo Art Gallery, http://ubartgalleries.buffalo.edu/ (August 28, 2004).
University of Buffalo Reporter, http://www.buffalo.edu/reporter/ (January 28, 1999), Patricia Donovan, "Into the 'Comix' Netherworld."