The AV Club Interviews Comix Journalist Joe Sacco

The AV Club interviews Biblioklept fave Joe Sacco, whose books Palestine and Safe Area Goražde should be required reading for any thinking person. Sacco explores some of the messiest, ugliest terrains in the world, plumbing disaster and war with heart, wit, and insight (read our post on Sacco for more, including links to shorter works). From the interview—

AVC: You got out of journalism school in 1981, so in addition to the shift in public perception about comics as an adult medium, your career has also spanned a profound shift in the journalism industry. Do you think in some ways you’ve been the beneficiary of that?

JS: As many problems as I have with the mainstream media and the way it goes about its business, I’d say at least journalists were, for the most part, trained in discrimination. I have my problems, mostly with editorial decisions in bigger cities, in editorial offices as opposed to with columnists or reporters. I realize that, as time’s gone by with the new media—I’m talking about the electronic media—you could see a shift to emphasis on visuals and on shorter attention spans. I’m sorry, in a way, if my work is a beneficiary of that. I would hope my work has other attributes that have led to a success. But I can’t know for sure, you know? I think the comics market is the only growing part of the publishing industry, of the book-publishing trade. It’s increasing its share as time goes by. I think it also has to do with the sheer weight of good work that’s out there now—obviously not just my work. There are many other great cartoonists working in fiction and other fields that are just really doing work that has to be looked at, that you cannot ignore.

“We Never Saw the Shooters” — A Passage from Roberto Bolaño’s Novel The Savage Detectives

A late passage from our favorite section of Roberto Bolaño’s novel The Savage Detectives–

It was then, when there was nothing left to do, when we had already written and photographed everything imaginable, that someone proposed that a few of us take a trip to the interior. Most, of course, turned down the offer. A Frenchman from Paris Match accepted. So did an Italian from Reuters, and me. The trip was organized by one of the guys who worked in the kitchen at the Center and who, besides making a few bucks, wanted to have a look at his town, which he hadn’t been back to in six months, even though it was only fifteen or twenty miles from Monrovia. During the trip (we were in a dilapidated Chevy driven by a friend of the cook, armed with an assault rifle and two grenades) the cook told us that he was ethnic Mano and his wife was ethnic Gio, friends of the Mandingo (the driver was Mandingo) and enemies of the Krahn, whom he accused of being cannibals, and that he didn’t know whether his family was dead or alive. Shit, said the Frenchman, we should go back. But we were already halfway there and the Italian and I were happy, using up the last of our film.
And so, without crossing a single checkpoint, we passed through the town of Summers and the hamlet of Thomas Creek, the Saint Paul River occasionally appearing to our left and other times lost from sight. The road was bad. At times it ran through the forest, what may have been old rubber plantations, and at times along the plain. From the plain one could guess at more than see the gently sloping hills rising in the south. Only once did we cross a river, a tributary of the Saint Paul, over a wooden bridge in perfect condition, and the only thing presenting itself to the camera’s eye was nature, nothing I would call lush, or even exotic, so I don’t know why it reminded me of a trip I made as a boy to Corrientes, but I even said as much, I said to Luigi: this looks like Argentina, saying it in French, which was the language in which the three of us communicated, and the guy from Paris Match looked at me and said that he hoped it only looked like Argentina, which frankly disconcerted me, because I wasn’t even talking to him, was I? and what did he mean? that Argentina was even wilder and more dangerous than Liberia? that if the Liberians were Argentinians we would’ve been dead by now? I don’t know. In any case his remark completely broke the spell for me and I would have liked to have it out with him then and there, but I know from experience that kind of argument gets you nowhere, and anyway the Frenchman was already annoyed by our majority decision not to go back and he had to let off steam somehow, not being satisfied by his constant grumbling about the poor black guys who just wanted to make a few dollars and see their families again. So I pretended not to have heard him, although mentally I wished him a monkey fucking, and I kept talking to Luigi, explaining things that until that moment I thought I’d forgotten, I don’t know, the names of the trees, for example, which to me looked like the old Corrientes trees and had the same names as the Corrientes trees, although they obviously weren’t the Corrientes trees. And I guess my enthusiasm made me seem brilliant, or in any case much more brilliant than I am, and even funny, to judge by Luigi’s laughter and the occasional laughter of our companions, and it was in an atmosphere of relaxed camaraderie, excluding the Frenchman Jean-Pierre, of course, who was increasingly sulky, that we left behind those ever so Corrienteslike trees and entered a treeless stretch, only brush, bushes that were somehow sickly, and a silence split from time to time by the call of a solitary bird, a bird that called and called and received no answer, and then we started to get nervous, Luigi and I, but by then we were too close to our goal to turn back, and we kept going.
The shots began soon after the village came into sight. It all happened very fast. We never saw the shooters and the firing didn’t last longer than a minute, but by the time we came around the bend and were in Black Creek proper, my friend Luigi was dead and the arm of the guy who worked at the center was bleeding and he was whimpering quietly, crouched under the passenger seat.
We too had automatically dropped to the floor of the Chevy.
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