Saturday, May 26, 2007

Joe Sacco's "The Fixer"

Sitting down on a rainy Wolseley day, I decided to read Joe Sacco's graphic novel "The Fixer." Sacco, of "Palestine" fame, didn't disappoint, with his monochrome illustrations and edgy dialogue that capture the dark mood of the events surrounding the Siege of Sarajevo.

This is the story of Neven, a former paramilitary fighter battling to defend Sarajevo, turned "fixer," or someone who provides foreign journalists with access to war zones. The fact that Neven is himself Serb plays heavily in the story, and it's in his exploration of the mutil-ethnic disintegration of Sarajevo that Sacco provides his most trenchant political commentary.

Throughout "The Fixer," I was struck not so much by Sacco's writing, it is solid at parts, especially in the dialogue, but by his use of arresting images at key moments of suspense or intrigue. While a conventional novelist might capture the tragedy of bombed out buildings in prose, Sacco does so through stunning portrayals of streetscapes that movingly call us into the story. And his imagery changes with the mood, as we can see in his drawings of post-war Sarajevo: groups of people in clubs or on the streets, all with their eyes closed, as if to gesture towards their inability to look to the past, to revisit the trauma. This reliance on the image to communicate what would otherwise be written out for us in a novel points to the true strength of the medium.

The biggest problem I can identify with "The Fixer" is Sacco's treatment of women in the story. His ultra-masculine world has little room for women except as objects for the fighters. I understand that Sacco is trying to stay true to Neven's narrative, but he could've introduced some counter-narratives to Neven's acerbic story. Where are all the women in Sarajevo?

Despite these misgivings, this is still a tight story about the politics of war. The truly telling parts of the story are Sacco's in-depth discussion of the paramilitary forces in Sarajevo and their dubious roles as defenders of the city, and of Neven's later role as a "fixer," which is how Sacco met Neven, and how their relationship evolved over the years. One can't help but wonder if Sacco is a bit enamoured by his macho informant, or if his steady desire to please his benefactor is purely professional. Either way, their relationship holds this complex story together.