By Joe Sacco
112 pages, black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Savvy comic readers know all about Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde, his look at the United Nations designated “safe area” enclave for Muslim Bosnians in the heart of Serbian-controlled Bosnia. What they might not know about is before Safe Area Gorazde, Sacco released Soba, the first in a series of planned stories about Bosnia to be published by Drawn & Quarterly. It’s been a while, but the second Bosnia comic at Drawn & Quartelry has finally arrived in the form of The Fixer, Sacco’s new graphic novel.

When Sacco arrived in Sarajevo, he needed some help getting around the war-torn city and understanding its people. That’s where Neven came in. A self-proclaimed hero during the height of the conflict in Bosnia, he’s willing to show Sacco around for a price. Through Neven, Sacco begins to learn about Sarajevo’s warlords that really controlled the city, and just what really happened during the Bosnian war… and how in the end, you can never truly escape your past.

Sacco’s comics journalism has gotten stronger over the years, and The Fixer definitely follows this trend. Weaving the stories of Sarajevo’s self-proclaimed saviours and Neven works surprisingly well because these are all stories of people who truly do care for Sarajevo, but whose actions can be questionable at best. Sacco gives us Neven’s tales at face value, letting the reader determine both the ethics and even the truth of the matter on their own. It’s a fine line to walk between relating to the reader the sort of charisma and charm that surrounded Neven and painting everything he says in a good light, but I think it works well here. You understand how Sacco and Neven establish both a business and personal relationship, but you’re still wanting to keep a careful distance away from Neven. More chilling, then, is reading about the warlords protecting Sarajevo from Serbian attacks. On the one hand, these are people who acted to keep the Serbians from exterminating the Muslim population of Bosnia. The actions they chose to take as more time passed, though, move into morally uncertain grounds. It’s fascinating to watch how these men change from heroes to demonized figures, as well as how their ultimate fates finally came about. An important chapter in Sarajevo and Bosnia’s history, Sacco keeps the reader enthralled from start to finish.

Sacco’s carefully textured art in The Fixer helps the reader really understand just what this period of time was like in the city of Sarajevo. Sacco carefully draws both run down alleys and gleaming office buildings, showing how in many ways Sarajevo was no different than any city in your own country. As The Fixer moves forward in time, the wreckage and debris grows, with weeds sprouting out of cracks in the road and shattered and burnt out windows staring down into a ghost town. You can see this reflected in the eyes of its citizens, as hope is slowly crushed out of them when their family, friends, and belongings are taken from them. It’s a sharp contrast to the calm, even joking expressions of the warlords, who are clearly relishing in their new positions of power. The beseiged people of Sarajevo have found themselves oppressed by both their attackers and their saviours, and Sacco makes sure to carefully bring these people to life in their posture, their movements across the page, and the world around them. The Fixer‘s art is as expressive as if Sacco had come back from Bosnia with a book of photos instead of art; you really feel like you’ve gotten a glimpse into the Balkan wars.

It’s been a decade since war ripped Bosnia apart, and we’re still learning of the horrors and mistakes of that time period. The facts have always been on record, but it’s these smaller human stories of what it was really like to live in the war zone that help us really understand what happened. Sacco’s chronicling of the war is truly a comic that will stand the test of time, both in subject material and presentation. I can’t think of a better person to create this memoir of an event the world would rather forget.

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