Sacco established his reputation as a serious journalist with Palestine (1994), a firsthand account-in-comics of Palestinian life under the Israeli occupation. Next came Safe Area Gorazde (2002), which documented the brutal victimization of Bosnian Muslims by Serb nationalists during the Yugoslavian conflict of the early 1990s. In The Fixer: A Story From Sarajevo, he returns to Sarajevo.
PW: Tell us why you returned to Bosnia and Sarajevo and about Neven, the "fixer."
Joe Sacco: I first met Neven in 1995 and thought he'd be good for a story about how civil society in Sarajevo broke down during the war. When the war started there was no Bosnian army. To defend the country it essentially turned into a warlord situation. Very little has been written about that. Neven was very much involved and I could tell his story as well.
PW: Why Neven?
JS: He's an interesting character, and using him allowed me to tell the story of how journalists often have to rely on totally uncreditable people who have their own agendas. It's a story that isn't told very much. The book makes it clear that you can never trust Neven, you can never know what's really true. He's not a sympathetic character but he can be a poignant character.
PW: In the book he is both heroic, risking his life to defend Sarajevo, and as barbaric as other Bosnian irregulars who were murderers and criminals. Which portrayal is true?
JS: Neven knew a lot about the warlord situation in Sarajevo and his stories were consistent, but even I could never really make up my mind about what was true. But a verdict wasn't really necessary. Neven represents the kind of people who inhabit a place like Sarajevo. The truth can be stretched in many different directions.
PW: Is he symbolic in some way?
JS: Yes, somewhat. People in Sarajevo can be needy and friendships are unstable, but the book is also about Neven as an individual. After the war he's in dire straits.
PW: What is Sarajevo like today?
JS: Sarajevo is a café economy. The cafés on the main streets are full, but then you wonder, what are all these people doing here in the middle of day? The economy is bad and people are desperate. Reconstruction after war is a long process.
PW: How do people respond to you as a cartoonist/journalist?
JS: People and other journalists take me seriously. No one's bothered that I do comics. In fact, it helps me. When I travel and show people my books, there is no language barrier.
PW: How do you go about your work?
JS: I take lots of photos for reference; otherwise I do what any reporter does. 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.
PW: What motivates you to do comics about war? Is it the suffering you encounter?
JS: Yes, the suffering does motivate me. I wouldn't do this if it didn't. When I see what I've seen, I'm compelled to tell these stories.
PW: When did you know you wanted to do serious journalism in comics form?
JS: I have a journalism degree, but I also came out of the autobiographical comics movement of the 1980s. I had always wanted to go to the Middle East, to the occupied territories, and after I got there I thought, well, I should do comics about this and my experiences. My journalism training just kicked in. By the time I did Safe Area Gorazde, I was more self-conscious about it.
PW: What are you working on for your next book?
JS: I'm working on a long book about Rafah, a refugee camp in Gaza. It will be a profile of the town and its history, and it will be published by Metropolitan Books.