||[Dec. 28th, 2008|01:35 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#58 THE FIXER: A STORY FROM SARAJEVO – Joe Sacco
(Drawn & Quarterly)
“This conversation is costing me 100 dm, but 100 dm does not begin to fill the crater of my obligation to Neven.”
Unlike Joe Sacco’s other comics about war-torn areas, such as Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde, The Fixer isn’t a crater-strewn landscape painting. Instead, it’s an intimate portrait of a single man. Neven is a fixer in Sarajevo, a well-informed and well-connected local who hangs out in hotel lobbies offering to act as guide and translator for visiting foreign correspondents who are trying to find a new story in the Bosnian War. Sacco slowly discovers that Neven, an ex-soldier, is himself the story. As the fixer drinks, smokes and gambles away the money he’s slowly leeching out of the cartoonist’s wallet, he introduces both his soldier buddies and his paying journalistic contacts. Both groups are shrinking, the first as they die and the second as they move on to fresher news. War has been business for Neven, both as a fixer and as a fighter. A new massacre, from his point of view, is a business opportunity.
Sacco finds more interest in Neven’s own stories than those he translates. The former sniper claims to have known several of the shady underworld characters given command of special units and turned into warlords during the conflict. The rise and fall of these charismatic thugs is narrated over café visits that Sacco compares to first dates; a moment when the two bond over their shared knowledge of military history he compares to schoolboy friendship. The journalist-cartoonist can’t help getting too close to his subject because it’s at the heart of the way he writes, repeatedly telling the the readers to put themselves in so-and-so’s shoes.
Neven’s fall from his glory days to the point where he’s living in his blind old aunt’s filthy apartment while sponging off journalists – and, as Sacco himself points out, not especially wealthy or prestigious ones – becomes a lens not only on the wider story of the conflict, but on journalism itself. The thorny relationship between reporters and the people they pay for their stories proves just as fascinating a subject. A photographer hires Neven as a guide, then guiltily becomes upset when he shoots someone while they travel together. Sacco begins to doubt the stories he is being told; even if his informant is fundamentally trustworthy, does paying him sour that trust? Might someone, even subconsciously, embellish stories to earn the 100 marks he’s being paid for them?
Though these questions are explored they cannot be fully answered. Ultimately, The Fixer is an unfinished portrait, an admission that there is a limit to how well you can get to know a person no matter how much you imagine wearing their shoes, especially when you’re paying for them.