Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

January 11, 2013

CR Holiday Interview #23—Joe Sacco



Joe Sacco is one of the finest cartoonists working, and a category-defining pioneer in the field of practicing journalism in comics form. In 2012 he published two major works: Journalism, a collection of his magazine pieces, and Days Of Destruction, Days Of Revolt, a book shared with prose writer Chris Hedges. For those of us that had taken the 2009 publication of the colossal Footnotes In Gaza as a sign we'd have to wait a half-decade or more for the next major Sacco effort, getting two books wasn't a surprise as much as a minor publishing miracle. I'll take any chance I can to talk to Sacco, one of comics' most articulate and eloquent representatives to the wider world. -- Tom Spurgeon


TOM SPURGEON: One thing I wondered about has to do with your unique positioning: you straddle two worlds. How much valuable feedback do you get on your work? For that matter, how much is feedback valuable to you? I ask because I wonder if the journalists know what to do with the comics, and if the comics people know how to process the fact you're practicing journalism. I guess I'm interested in both in-process relationships you might have, but also reviews or other post-publication reactions. Do you get anything from what gets written or said about you, Joe?

JOE SACCO: I have read feedback at certain times, and I have read feedback with the last couple of books. There always comes a point where I feel all I'm getting is my ego stroked or I'm having someone misrepresent the book that I get sort of pissed off and then I decide there's no point reading this stuff. You're catching me in a period where I'm in a moratorium where I don't read reviews or anything.

SPURGEON: And in the process? You come from that alt-comics tradition where there's little to no editing at all, partly due to the lean and mean and close to the ground nature of a lot of those publishers. It's my impression that you've continued on with that, that you're not heavily edited in the process of doing your comics.

SACCO: Not generally, though there have been periods where I've been edited. When I did some journalism for Art Spiegelman -- there's a Details piece in the Journalism book and I did another Details piece that was in the rock and roll book I did. He edited both of those and for the rock and roll piece he had no opinion about how I was approaching it one way or the other. He was fine with it. With the other piece, the one about the Hague War Crimes Tribunal, he was very actively involved in editing and making suggestions with the script. In fact, we basically went through nine different drafts with the script.

SPURGEON: Oh my gosh.

SACCO: Basically he wanted to boil down further -- and when I did some of the drawings he even had suggestions about the drawings to make them more effective. And you know, at that point, I wasn't used to being edited, but I thought, "This is Art Spiegelman. Maybe I can learn something here." [Spurgeon laughs] I sort of gave myself over to the process. And I did learn something. It was very useful.

The other time I was edited, and it was a much more complicated process, was the book Footnotes In Gaza. I actually had an editor. This is for a book publisher, Metropolitan, as opposed to a comic book publisher. The thing with a regular book publisher [laughs] if I might call it that, they're not used to people just having their own way without... feedback. Without inserting themselves on some level. I sort of wanted an editor in this case, because it was very loaded material. Obviously it was about massacres in Gaza. It involved Palestinians and Israelis so right there you're going to get red flags coming up. My editor happens to be an Israeli citizen -- not that we don't have the same politics, because I think we essentially share the same politics, but she was able to look at the book with certain eyes that I might not have had myself.

She was helpful in very practical ways. For example, I drew a picture of a kibbutz and I drew people in sort of conservative clothing. And she wrote me, "Actually, that particular kibbutz is a secular kibbutz." They would have been wearing overalls, not headscarves. That's the kind of stuff I needed to know. You make mistakes, probably, but you don't want to make those obvious mistakes. It was still a very difficult process, because I really thought, and I tried to make it clear, that I wanted the editing to begin and end at the script stage. I usually write an entire script. So there was a lot of back and forth about the script, and I was okay with it, maddening as it was. The more difficult part was that when I turned in the drawings, the finished art, then changes were also suggested at that point, too, to a script element, which if you're changing a caption, if you're increasing or decreasing the caption, you have to redraw some part of the image. Which was difficult. Really difficult. But I have to say, as an enormously difficult task as it was for me to sort of deal with an editor and all that, she was very good, and I'd say about 85 percent of her edits improved the book. The other 15 percent -- and I was clear to say no to anything, she made that clear to me -- but I only put my foot down about 15 percent of the time [laughs] and said, "Nah, I'm not going to change this." Or "I think it's fine the way it is."

I gotta say it was really difficult. Really difficult. Because as a cartoonist you're generally spoiled as far as it goes. I think it can be a really good thing for a book and a really bad thing for a book depending on where you are as an artist. I personally like not being edited just because it's easier that way, and because cartooning is one of the only places that you can get a sort of singular vision. A painter isn't edited in his painting, or her painting. They put down what they want to put down, and that's the end of the story. I think that's how a lot of cartoonists are used to negotiating these sorts of things. Maybe that will change. As more book publishers get involved, it might change. DC and Marvel and all those places have editors.

SPURGEON: The question I have as it relates to the work is that you've spoken in the past in eloquent fashion about your ability to cover a story in-depth, to stay in a place a long time is a benefit to the kind of journalism you do. I wondered if the fact that you're mostly -- mostly -- left alone, or are mostly direct your own projects, as opposed to a journalist that's filing on a regular basis and working with an editor at far remove. I wonder if that's had an impact on the effectiveness of your journalism as well.

SACCO: Yeah, I think it makes a big difference. Getting autonomy -- in my case, I don't know about other cartoonists -- but in my case it wasn't something I was thinking about directly. "I'm going to carve out some way of doing this and do it my way" or whatever. Things sort of developed pretty accidentally in that if no one is interested in what you're doing, or there are no real venues for it... For example, when I went to Palestine the first time, I didn't even tell Fantagraphics. Fantagraphics was my publisher at the time. I thought no one was going to print this stuff. I was worried that no one was going to be interested in this, but I sort of felt obligated to do this work. Because of that, the autonomy comes as byproduct of the fact that you feel like you're so under the radar and so unimportant that no one's going to pay attention anyway.

SPURGEON: Now has that changed for you?

SACCO: It's changed. It's changed considerably. It's gone from that to where everyone is sort of paying attention, people want you to do work for them. Then they want you to do a work like you did before. You know what I mean? The vista is wider, but people are so used to you doing things a certain way that that's kind of want they want. You're a known quantity now, and they want a known quantity.

imageSPURGEON: You seem properly self-critical and self-analytical in terms of your strategies and you ways of doing things. Is that a constant struggle, given all the other pressures, just to get work done, to stay hard on yourself in terms of not falling into routines or bad patterns or using techniques over and over again?

SACCO: I do try to be pretty self-critical. If you're trying to get away from being edited, you have to be self-critical. You gotta look at your stuff and say, "Can I draw this better?" Or "Just because I invested all this time in writing it this way, maybe I should go back and undo this?" It's very painful to do it yourself. I prefer it. I prefer to come to those conclusions myself. What helps me is that I'm not entirely a perfectionist. My feeling is you have to sort of keep moving forward. Often I look back and think, "I should have done this differently." Or "If I had to do it again, I might have asked this question." You know what I mean? I think all my work, it's not varnished to that point. And I'm okay with that, generally speaking. My main thing is okay, I need to take a bit more time with this aspect. Or I've learned to slow down at this point. Hopefully I'll just carry those lessons forward.

SPURGEON: That might be a good place to start into our discussion of the Journalism book. Did putting that book together engender any sort of review of those works for you? Did you see things that you did in putting that book together that are instructive for what you're doing now?

SACCO: Yeah. You look at that stuff. There are pieces I like there, and pieces I like less. Often each piece has a bit of both. There are things I don't like and things I do like. There are things I sort of think, "Wow, I really got right. I don't know if I could ever replicate that again -- and maybe I shouldn't." [Spurgeon laughs] And then there are parts of everything I've done where they stand out for me if not for anyone else as not being as good. I especially feel this with my drawing. I've never felt I'm a great drawer. I might be a good drawer. That's where I see a lot of things that don't work.

SPURGEON: When something doesn't work for you, what do you mean by that?

SACCO: The thing is, when I'm drawing something, it always seems like it's working. And to me I think it's a good thing that if two years later you look back and go, "Nah, that's not properly drawn." I think that's somewhat good, because if you're never satisfied with your old work you know you can move forward onto something, somehow. You can improve. And I find that a good thing.

SPURGEON: Why the Journalism book now? I ask because you have another book out, and usually when you get a greatest hits, or a collection like Journalism comes out it's spaced between newer projects in part to keep your name in front of the public and in part to help you bridge the gap between projects. So with another work out at the same time, I wondered why you decided to do this collection now.

SACCO: Partly because I had I'd say three or four long, substantial pieces that a lot of people hadn't seen. I felt why not put this out there, otherwise they'd get lost. Who's going to look at some back issue of Harper's. I always thought as a journalist you're kind of documenting the times. What I liked about those pieces is that mostly they're not my standard stomping grounds: Israel, Palestine and Bosnia. There are a couple of short pieces that are about those places. I've actually tried to look elsewhere, and in some ways I've tried to get away from conflict, too. In some ways the book was sort of a signal that I was trying to get away from conflict. When I say conflict, I mean violent conflict. [laughs] You can never get away from conflict.

But then there's something even bigger than that. That's one reason. The other reason is I've been thinking of sort of stepping away from journalism for a while. Adding things besides journalism to what I'm doing. Even the commentary was a way of sort of, in my own mind, saying, "Okay, this part of career -- I won't say 'done' -- but you're moving onto other things at this point." That's what I wanted to do.


SPURGEON: I wanted to ask about a couple of stories more specifically. One was a story that struck me different just for reading it in this collection. "Trauma On Loan" I thought was a slightly problematic piece the first time I read it. You seem in the course of the story to be dissatisfied with certain aspects of that story. I wonder if my reaction to it this time around is as simple as the book is called Journalism and the piece has a running critique of a certain kind of story, the difficulties in presenting the story here.

SACCO: I think almost all my stories -- not quite all of them -- but most of my journalistic stories have a critique of what I'm doing and journalism in general. I want to show the ins and outs of getting a story because often the problematic nature is part of the story. Torture is an intimate thing. It's very hard to talk about humiliation, your own humiliation, and partly that's what torture is about. A journalist wants to get to the meat and bones, what exactly happened to you in consecutive order, to be crude about it. That's what you're trying to get to. Then you realize it's painful for them. They have minders that are being very attentive to what it all means to them. It's a very interesting dynamic, what was going on. It wasn't really just about the money shots of torture. Those people are still sort of tortured. And talking about it is a form of torture. I wanted to get to some of that.

SPURGEON: It seems like there's some self-criticism there, too; at one point in the final sequence you confess that you're playing things more lightly than you otherwise would have. Does that kind of observation come at a remove, or does -- ?

SACCO: At a remove. The truth is when I'm trying to get those stories, I am trying to find out what happened to those guys. I want them to tell me exactly what happened. Whether I'll use it or not... I sort of want myself to be the judge of how much information I'll use. I think there's a certain arrogance to that. As a journalist, that's how I behave. I won't say I'm cold to people, but journalism itself is... you're trying to get to something. You're trying to get people to tell you something. What they're going to tell you is going to be difficult for them to say. Usually when I'm trying to get the story, I'm very much trying to get the story.

Drawing is a different process. Even writing about it when you're at a remove from it, you see yourself in a different light. There is sort of a remove. There's a dichotomy between the art of what I'm doing and the journalism itself. One is very cold and calculated, the other is very reflective on that. But I think both are necessary in a certain way. It doesn't mean I'm an insensitive bastard when I'm talking to those people. In many cases, I've shut down interviews when people can't talk. But there's that part of me saying, "God damn it..." [laughs] I know it's the right thing to do; it's more cerebral that it's the right thing to do to shut it down. It becomes more emotional later on when you're thinking about those people. It's easier to think about people as people when you're a bit removed. You think of them as subjects when you're a journalist.

I do. I should talk for myself.


SPURGEON: [laughs] I thought the belle of the ball in this book, and I forgot the title so I went and tried to find it just now. "The Unwanted."

SACCO: The one about Malta.

SPURGEON: I thought that was a great story. It popped for me looking at the collection again because I thought there was a real complexity to it, and an energy that was different than a lot of your other journalistic pieces. It seemed like it took a while for you to find a center to the story, although I'm not sure you'd agree.

SACCO: I'm not sure I'd agree because I wrote the whole thing as one script. I didn't write it bit by bit. You read the story in the book?


SACCO: Because the story The Guardian put out, I thought they were doing an excerpt and I think what they did -- because I couldn't even look at it -- was condense it somehow.

SPURGEON: They did. There's not a lot there.

SACCO: It's one of those things where I'm not a micromanager, so I didn't know they where doing something like that. It didn't even occur to me. I thought they were taking some part of it that would work as a whole.

SPURGEON: I thought that story as reprinted in Journalism had an interesting pace. It felt different than some of your other stories, and I'm not sure I can articulate exactly how.

SACCO: What I wanted to do is start out with the overall idea of what's going on, but at the end of the first half tell one person's story in-depth and then get into the intricacies of government policy and what's going on. Maybe I didn't pace it well. [laughs] I didn't think that, and I guess I don't think that now that I'm -- I didn't feel like it was a mess when I was doing it. Sometimes things do feel like a mess, but that one didn't.

SPURGEON: I didn't feel it was a mess, but it seemed like a very complex story, and there was an uncertainty on your part as a narrator in the story.

SACCO: Oh, there's that. Okay.

imageSPURGEON: I thought this was the best story in the book, and that it wasn't a mess at all.

SACCO: I thought you were talking about the structure. [pause]

I appreciate your saying that. The reason it was in some ways easy to do this story in Malta is because Malta is so small. And because I'm Maltese, people are more open to me as an outsider. Also because I speak it fairly okay. I wouldn't say fluently, but well enough to get by in conversation. People would sometimes say things I would catch even though they didn't think I understood. The other thing is is that it's kind of a place where you can call up a minister and a day later you're talking to him, which you can't really do in European countries. It's a big rigamarole. Malta is small and you can get the whole thing. You can also visit Africans in their camps or on the street, just talk to them.

It was a complex story. I wanted to approach it going in, not in a knee-jerk liberal fashion. I think it's important to understand. I think migration is going to be the biggest story of the century coming up. Human migration. With climate change, people are going to want to move. And people are going to want to keep them out. This is going to be a real problem. My natural inclination is just to be very sympathetic to the Africans that are leaving. To the migrants. And actually, when push comes to shove that's where my sympathies lie. But I did not want to dismiss out of hand why people are fearful. Unless we start talking about why people are afraid of migrants coming through, we're never going to come up with a graceful way to accomodate migrants. You can't just sort of tell people, "You have to accept migrants, because otherwise you're racist." I mean, racism plays a part, perhaps -- in this case it does play a part -- in how they look at African people, but there's more to it than just that. People don't like to see anything they know change if they're comfortable with what they know. I wanted to address that somehow and sort of get some feel for what people are feeling about migrants and why they are fearful. Not dismiss those feelings out of hand.

SPURGEON: Do you feel you got there somewhere. Did you get an answer, or the shape of one?

SACCO: I think I understand the basics of it. For me, the strange thing is, I think there are human questions we can never put an answer on. That's troubling, but it's sort of honest. I look at my neighborhood. I like my neighborhood here in Portland, Oregon. If things were starting to change quite a bit in the neighborhood, what would I think? I'm comfortable with my existence. What would I think if the park was full of people I didn't know who they were. And there were like cultural things that are different. I look at myself and I'm thinking, "Okay, how much of this would irk me? How much would I try to swallow? Where would I be in this picture?" I began to ask myself that question. And you know, I think people are going to move. People are going to migrate. It's just going to be a reality of where we are. It has to be a reality. The idea is to come to terms with it as gracefully as possible. We were never going to come to terms with it perfectly gracefully, I think. At least we have to be open to being graceful. That's why I really liked this mayor I met. Of Marsa. He has a lot of problems on his hands. He was at least trying to be a decent person. I'm not saying he didn't have some of the prejudices the people around him had. He did. But he was trying to find that decent part of himself that was trying to come to terms with change. That's what it's about. It's coming to terms with change, and change is inevitable.

SPURGEON: You talk about looking at yourself in this sort of situation, and thinking about this happening in your neighborhood. In a couple of interviews you've done, you've talked about your kind of... I don't know that I want to call it rootlessness, but your "citizen of the world" status -- I think it was constructed that way in one of the pieces I read. You have sort of a global, cosmopolitan background at least relative to a lot of folks. For that matter, just the fact that you've traveled a lot and have friends in different areas of the world, might set you apart a bit. Do you ever question that aspect of your background in terms of some of these smaller, conservative communities into which you enter? That the world they live in is much smaller than the world you live in?

SACCO: I'm definitely in communities that are conservative in ways I wouldn't want to live. I'm often around people where I'm not used to their community, but I try to look at their communities -- I'm not saying in a relativist sense, but you have to accept a lot of different ways of living if you want to get by in this world. Also, what you find is that there are great differences but you also find the commonalities. Those really strike me. I mean, most people just want to have a decent place to live. They want their children to go to school. They want opportunities. A lot of concerns for people are very economically based somehow. After that, things begin to widen a bit. I would say, most Americans I know, their concerns are very economically based. Their concerns about civil liberties... how many people that I know that are liberal about economic issues are not that concerned with civil liberties. I'm not talking about gay and lesbian issues, they might be liberal in that regard, but when it comes to the drones or surveillance or things like that -- ehhh, you know. They don't see anything wrong.

You know what I mean? There's conservativism even in liberal bastions like Portland. It's very deep.

You're right. I have traveled a lot. I don't feel great loyalties to places. I feel a certain loyalty to my city in kind of this weird way. I like Portland or I'm pissed off about what's going on in Portland or whatever, but this is the community I live in. And I have more in common with someone I'm around in Portland than I have with people in other cities. Whether it's a Rio De Janeiro or a city in West Virginia, I may have little in common with each of those places. They're both foreign places on some level.


SPURGEON: Days Of Destruction, Days Of Revolt was your other 2012 book. You know, I thought the drawing in that book was particularly attractive.

SACCO: Thanks. That's nice of you to say.

SPURGEON: Was it fun with some of the tableaux you were dealing with, these landscapes and these illustrations in addition to the comics constructions?

SACCO: I wanted to draw landscapes, and I wanted to give emphasis to landscapes, because I think... I like landscapes. I like paintings of landscapes. I think not enough of it is done in comics. Comics is such shorthand sometimes that people give that kind of thing short-shrift. I think landscape is a major player in people's lives. I think an urban landscape or the rural landscape or whatever it is, it's really striking to me. So I wanted to give the reader a sense of that. It's not photography, of course. Photography can also do this sort of thing. It's also goof for me personally, because when you're drawing you're really thinking about it. If anyone gets a benefit out of those landscapes, it's me drawing them. Probably more than any single reader does. [laughs] It's kind of for my edification. If you're drawing something, you're really thinking about it.

imageSPURGEON: Did you have as much time with the comics you did here as you have had in other projects? Were you able to settle into the kind of reporting you prefer to do, or were you more in and out.

SACCO: I would say it was more in and out. It was different from my other sort of stories. I was working with Chris Hedges, and were doing things in I think more of newspaper mode. Normally, and it's not always possible, I like to stay in a community for a while, really get a sense of it. We weren't approaching it in quite that way. What I was trying to do is take one single story or maybe two from each place we went to and just trying to tell that person's story. It might be necessary to talk to that person extensively once, twice, three times to get that. It wasn't like I personally was trying to capture a whole community. So I was thinking what was necessary for the book. I was uncomfortable with what was necessary for the book. It's not normally how I do things.

SPURGEON: It sounds like you might have preferred to do it the other way, but the assignment in front of you was this.

SACCO: Yeah. The assignment in front of us, or what we decided to do, is look at four different places. Even looking at four different places it took about a year and a half to do all of the reporting. We visited some places more than once. We went to West Virginia a couple of times, for example. Over the course of a year and a half you're spending just maybe a few weeks traveling. Not more than six weeks out of that year. The rest of the time you're writing and sending ideas back and forth. That kind of thing.

SPURGEON: How did working with Hedges have an effect on the comics, do you think? Or is that just too impossible broad a question? I think if you remove the comics or placed the comics into a different context fans of your might not be able to detect Hedges. They wouldn't think that anything about those comics was radically different. Do you feel the comics work itself was any different for that collaboration?

SACCO: On some level it was different. When we were doing these interviews, Chris was the one asking a lot of these questions. I'd say he was taking the lead in a lot of these interviews. And there was even a case, for example with the Spanish woman: I don't speak Spanish, he does. So he was asking the questions, but Chris has worked with me enough to ask visual questions. [laughs] He would ask, "When you were crossing the river, what was that like?" A prose journalist might just say, "They crossed the river." He knew I had to draw that. So in Spanish, without me prompting, he would ask a lot of those questions to clear things up. So it was an interesting collaboration in that regard.

It wasn't fully planned out how we were going to do it when we did it. At first I wasn't sure I was going to be doing things my general way where I'm also writing sort of a narration to go with what I'm doing. Then we realized if I tell a particular story, I can illustrate it: a story that's going to go back to World War 2, or into someone's mind, or into Camden as it looked in the 1950s. Chris understood my work well enough that even with the best material he could go, "You take this story." He was very generous that way. There wasn't any friction between us. We sort of fell into our roles in a way. It was a smooth machine. What you don't want, or what I think is difficult, when you're interviewing people is to have two people interviewing. You can tell someone is guiding the interview. You have a question and then Chris asks the question I was going to ask. I could jump in at any time, and at the end I asked questions I needed to ask, which frequently led to a new avenue of inquiry.

imageSPURGEON: The Rudy Kelly sequence -- the old miner. There was something very compelling about your take on him in modern times. That was a great visual. How aware are you when you're doing something like this that a person or a moment is going to look a certain way on paper? That seemed to me a compelling sequence just for his presence: his squinty eye, his large hands.

SACCO: That's how he looked! When I'm looking at things, I often judge them according to how they'll look in the comic. You see things, and they're really compelling. Or this person is visually interesting and it will be fun to draw this person. That's based on photographs, too. I took photographs of these people. Then you model the person in the photographs. The only exception was the woman from Guatemala, because she didn't want to be identified. So I didn't draw her as she looked. I felt comfortable drawing her because there's some aspects in her, but ultimately she can't be identified.

SPURGEON: It might be the last thing you drew in the book. There's a two-page spread of the Occupy people that you encountered. Can you talk a little about that drawing. It looks a little different: it's softer, and there's some dropped details, although the faces still communicate. It's a nice drawing. I wondered why you went to that kind of wide show, if there was something on your mind other than capturing a specific scene or moment.

SACCO: By the time I was drawing that, Occupy was being pretty heavily demonized. What I remember from Occupy is a lot of people visiting the camp. A lot of people, almost suburban people visiting and talking to these kids. It had this really joyful spirit. You could find anything you wanted: you could find the scruffy kids there, you could find the anarchists that are demonized and all that. By and large, the impression that a lot of people had when they were down there, the impression I had was a very positive thing. That's what I wanted to capture. I wanted to capture that positive moment where people were talking, people were making decisions together, and where people actually felt like what they said would be valued on some level. It was the first time I'd ever seen people not afraid to open their mouths, not afraid that what they wanted to say would be shouted down or whatever. Occupy had its problems, and you can go over them again and again and again, but that to me was a joyful moment.

imageSPURGEON: You had to know that story in particular would continue to develop. It's not like you haven't dealt with stories where you're getting one moment, but it seems like with something along the lines of Occupy, you talked about capturing the moment; you're definitely capturing a moment.

SACCO: It was a very specific moment.

SPURGEON: Is it just about being honest in terms of capturing that moment, or were you worried at all that the story would become something different after you were done with it?

SACCO: The story always ends up being something different once you're done with it. [laughs] I was trying to capture a moment. Then Occupy around the country was chased out, chased out of everywhere for health reasons or security reasons or whatever -- these are the reasons that are given. It becomes something else. It becomes a little more splintered and those people that were heavily invested in it go on to do other things that might be just as effective or hopefully more effective. For other for whom it was just fun, they might drift out of it. It's changed. There's no doubt about it. It's changed from that moment. I'm drawing the human mic. All of that has changed now. Will it return in that particular guise again? Maybe not. But it might have kindled other fires and we'll see how they all play out. I knew that this was a precious moment when I was drawing it, and I wanted that to remain. I'll be honest, it's as close to advocacy as I've gotten in my work, where I'll actually say, "I was all for this."

SPURGEON: Given your intellectual curiosity in archeology and the structure of power, and the things that you're looking at now with the forthcoming work on Mesopotamia, was seeing the Occupy people up close helpful in terms of pushing you in that direction?

SACCO: Completely. I still want to do journalism, because I think journalism is important. But I have other questions. I think you have to approach other questions in different ways. I think I'm more going rely on my side... I'm going to be more of an artist than a journalist. With an artist, advocacy isn't a problem. With journalism, I've always had a problem where I might have sympathies and I have very definite views. Now I'm just at that point in what I want to do that I just want to approach things more directly. Talk more in an essay form about some of the things you're mentioning: power, authority, the state.

SPURGEON: Do you know when we might start seeing that work?

SACCO: I don't. I don't. After I finish this book on World War One I'm getting to it. I've been writing a lot of this stuff over the last few years. Some of it... some of it was things that were circulating in my head about how the state gets people to kill other people. That interested me. Since then, Occupy started up, and it inspired me to think of the state a lot more. Think of how the state even gets its authority, how it maintains that authority, and how it convinces us it has authority. So I've just been thinking in those terms. Even the Mesopotamia project, as far as its inception, it was thought out before more than a year or two years ago, over time it's also been channeled in this direction. It's not going to be a project about, "Then Hammurabi did this. Here's the Code Of Hammurabi and this is what it means." It's going to be a bit looser. We'll see where it's going to go. I'm going to be a big more organic about how I'm approaching things form here on out. I'm trying to get away from structure.

SPURGEON: Is it weird to be your own category, Joe? Although that's not true anymore. If you move away from journalism, it seems like there are any number of cartoonists that are willing to work in that arena. Is that gratifying at all?

SACCO: Yeah, I'm glad. I'm glad. It should be a function of cartooning. Why not? I think cartoonists can show people what things are like. They can get inside things and they can take people back into the past. I am gratified. I'm kind of surprise in a way. It seems there are a lot more people doing it than I thought. In some ways I haven't paid that much attention. There are certain names that have become more prominent as people doing this stuff. There are people that aren't even beholden to the way I've been doing things, not at all. They're doing things in their own way. They have their own politics, and their own way of judging things. I studied journalism so I came out of that with that way of thinking about it. Even if I reacted against what I was taught, they probably don't have those issues. Whether that leads to good work or not, or good journalism or not I can't say, but I'm willing to see where it goes. I'm glad. Good. [laughs] I'm glad younger cartoonists are doing this stuff. [laughter] It takes the burden off of me.

I'm not going to stop doing journalism, because the truth is I love to talk to people. I have ideas, but they will all relate to my larger mood now, which is to talk about the state and state power and human nature and things like that. It will either be really interesting or a complete disaster.


* Days Of Destruction, Days Of Revolt
* Journalism


* photo of Sacco from 2010 by Eric Reynolds
* from the Hague story in Journalism
* from "Kushinagar," in Journalism
* from "Trauma On Loan"
* two from "The Unwanted"
* one of the banner-type illustrations Sacco did for Days Of Destruction, Days Of Revolt
* a character portrait, including some outside background detail
* West Virginian Rudy Kelly, a vivid character
* part of Sacco's study of an Occupy movement scene
* covers to the two books from this year [below]



posted 11:00 am PST | Permalink

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