"It might be supposed that comics are, by their very nature, bound to be explicit and two-dimensional, but this is untrue. There are kinds of subtlety and metaphorical allusiveness that are easier to achieve in comics than in novels."
description by Michel Faber from The Guardian
When the war reporter Joe Sacco returned to Bosnia in 2001, he was looking for the only person who still seemed willing to talk frankly about the madness into which the country had descended a few years before. That person was a hard-drinking army veteran called Neven, nicknamed "The Fixer" for his ability to arrange anything - access to off-limits places, gang-bangs, a niche in a trench at the frontline - for the right price. When they met up again, Sacco and his frustratingly unreliable informant completed their harrowing journey through the Balkan nightmare. Why has this piece of journalism taken so long to reach us? Well, Sacco had to create each of the 105 pages with pencil and ink.
The Fixer is a comic. (Sacco, in common with most other outstanding comics artists, from Robert Crumb to Peter Pontiac, prefers that term to the over-dignified "graphic novel".) Sacco's drawings are monochrome, intricately cross-hatched and shaded, very much a product of the American underground scene that rejected the superhero ethos. Although the current glut of movies deriving from that ethos might tempt us to look down on comics, in truth the puerility of Spider-Man or The Incredible Hulk doesn't define the form any more than Mills & Boon defines literature. The Fixer is more morally complex and more artistically ambitious than many well-reviewed novels.
The Fixer chronicles the rise of the paramilitary warlords whose fanatical courage was harnessed to defend Bosnia against ethnic cleansing, but who inevitably became corrupted by power, bloodlust and factionalist delusions. Sacco (always a character in his own comics) plays the impressionable, weedy westerner, while Neven boozes, chain-smokes and reminisces about battles and betrayals. There is a fraternal, even homoerotic charge to Sacco's friendship with the man who "knows about muzzle velocity, rate of fire, the effect of over-water air currents on the trajectory of a bullet". Yet Sacco is wise enough to see through the self-mythologising that keeps mavericks like Neven from admitting their own role in a national disaster.
Apart from his gifts as an artist, Sacco has a growing talent as a writer. He handles the treacherously complex material with confidence, and just about pulls off some audacious metaphors, such as "the war pushing back from the table, belching, and motioning lazily for the final bill". The best things in The Fixer, though, are the juxtapositions made possible by the medium. It might be supposed that comics are, by their very nature, bound to be explicit and two-dimensional, but this is untrue. There are kinds of subtlety and metaphorical allusiveness that are easier to achieve in comics than in novels.