Artist Bio – Joe Sacco

{mosimage}Joe Sacco is a Maltese citizen currently residing in Portland, OR where he makes his living as a cartoonist and journalist.

Sacco received his bachelor of arts degree in journalism at the University of Oregon in 1981. Two years later he returned to his native Malta, where his first professional cartooning work (a series of romance comics) was published. After relocating back to Portland, he co-edited and co-published the monthly comics newspaper Portland Permanent Press from 1985 to 1986; PPP lasted 15 issues, and included early work by such cartoonists as John Callahan and J.R. Williams. In 1986, Sacco moved to the Los Angeles area, where he worked on staff for Fantagraphics Books, editing the news section for the trade publication The Comics Journal and creating the satirical comic magazine Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy.

From 1988 to 1992, Sacco criss-crossed the globe, producing six issues of his own comic book Yahoo for Fantagraphics Books as he traveled. He returned to Malta for a half a year; he spent a couple of months traveling around Europe with a rock band (an experience he recorded in the story “In the Company of Long Hair” for Yahoo #2, since included in his collection Notes from a Defeatist); he lived for close to two years in Berlin, where he drew dozens of record sleeves and posters for German record labels and concert promoters; and, in late 1991 and early 1992, he spent two months in Israel and the occupied territories, traveling and taking notes. When he finally returned again to Portland in mid-1992, it was with the intention of communicating what he had witnessed and heard during his Mid-Eastern jaunt — to combine the techniques of eyewitness reportage with the medium of comics storytelling to explore this complex, emotionally weighted situation. Palestine, the first issue of which was released in January, 1993, was the result.

In the years subsequent to the release of Palestine, Sacco has gained widespread praise for the depth of his research, the sensitivity of his handling of a delicate subject, as well as for the craft exhibited in his dynamic, sophisticated layouts and bold narrative. Palestine set new standards for the use of the comic book as a documentary medium, and was the first non-fiction graphic novel to invite serious comparison with Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus.

Sacco was a recipient of the prestigious American Book Award in 1996 for Palestine. His first post-Palestine work, the short story “Christmas with Karadzic,” appeared in Zero Zero (#15), the leading alternative comics anthology. The story was the subject of a major feature on Sacco in The New York Times in June of 1999, and set the stage for the success of his next major opus, Safe Area Gorazde. (It has since been collected in the book War’s End.)

In 1998, Sacco was commissioned by Details magazine’s then-comix editor, Art Spiegelman, to cover the Bosnian War Crime Trials in the Hague, Netherlands. His six-page story was hailed as one of the best pieces of journalism in the magazine’s history, and the magazine promptly commissioned a second strip from Sacco. The second time around, Sacco was sent on tour with R.L. Burnside, one of the elder statesmen of the great living Mississippi bluesmen (Sacco is a great aficionado of classic American blues). The strip was published in the May 2000 cover-dated issue.

In 2000, Sacco finished his first major follow-up to Palestine: a 240-page exploration of a small Muslim enclave in Bosnia called Gorazde (titled Safe Area Gorazde: The War In Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995) and based upon Sacco’s recent travels to the war-torn region. Published in August 2000, the book received the most attention of any of Sacco’s books to date, with major coverage from TIME magazine, The New York Times, NPR, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, and dozens of other publications.

In April of 2001, Sacco received a Guggenheim Fellowship to help pursue his work. In 2003 he followed up Safe Area Gorazde with The Fixer, another work of graphic journalism set in Bosnia. During 2004 he became the staff cartoonist for The Washington Monthly for one year, creating a series of two-page satirico-political strips.

2006 saw the release of But I Like It, a collection of Sacco’s rock and roll and blues oriented strips, from Fantagraphics Books, and in 2007 Fantagraphics collected Palestine for the first time in hardcover in a new “Special Edition” complete with all-new introductory materials. 2011 will see the release of a similar “Special Edition” of Safe Area Gorazde.

A 40+ page comics story Sacco did about Chechen refugees in Ingushetia was published in an anthology called I Live Here, a benefit book for Amnesty International, in 2009. Sacco’s most recent major work is a book about the southern Gaza Strip — both journalistic and historical — called Footnotes in Gaza, published by Metropolitan Books in early 2010; this book received the 2010 Ridenhour Book Prize in March 2010.

Featured books by Joe Sacco (click covers for complete product details & ordering information)

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All books by Joe Sacco