The Fixer

by Joe Sacco

giving slideshow at Reading Frenzy, 921 SW Oak, Thursday Nov. 20, 7 pm, free

I n 1995, Joe Sacco traveled to the former Yugoslavia in order to cover the war. His earlier book, Palestine, garnered much deserved critical acclaim--including an American Book Award--for its unique combination of comic book illustration and journalism. The second book, Safe Area Grozade, explained the situation in Bosnia by focusing on Grozade, which Sacco described as a microcosm of the break-up of Yugoslavia. His new book, The Fixer, has him returning to Bosnia to find the man who helped him make connections during his first trip. The title refers to the people in war zones who work with outsider journalists to set them up with the best stories. The atrocities of war are bad news for a nation, but they mean financial gain for fixers.

Sacco's fixer is named Neven, and when Sacco arrives at the tail end of the war in '95, Neven is in financial hardship. The work that was once there is now gone. Neven is quite the character, with a shady past, one that is obviously embellished at least slightly, but how much? The reader, like Sacco, gets sucked in to Neven's character, and his exorbitant stories of fighting and soldiering.

Many of Neven' s tales focus on the four main para-military leaders who headed up the Muslim Nationalist resistance against the Serbs. They were a totally disparate group, more or less individual warlords, who had free reign, though were supposedly in alliance with the government. The story of these men, their alliances and their activities, are confusing as hell, especially for those of us who remember the war only through the generalities of the major media outlets. But Sacco balances all the information skillfully, and presents the story of these various factions with the same clarity as he presents the complex and confounding character of Neven.

Sacco draws all the situations--those described by Neven, as well as others from official reports--with the same graphic, unflinching accuracy. He does not embellish the violence in an action comic style, nor does he soften the grotesqueries with blurred vision. His gory details are vivid, disturbing, and utterly real. M. WILLIAM HELFRICH