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Joe Sacco

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Joe Sacco
Sacco in 2005
Sacco in 2005
Born (1960-10-02) October 2, 1960 (age 63)
Kirkop, Crown Colony of Malta
EducationSunset High School
University of Oregon (BA)
Notable works

Joe Sacco (/ˈsæk/; born October 2, 1960) is a Maltese-American cartoonist and journalist. He is best known for his comics journalism, in particular in the books Palestine (1996) and Footnotes in Gaza (2009), on Israeli–Palestinian relations; and Safe Area Goražde (2000) and The Fixer (2003) on the Bosnian War. In 2020, Sacco released Paying the Land, published by Henry Holt and Company.[1]


Sacco was born in Malta[1] on October 2, 1960.[2][3] His father Leonard was an engineer and his mother Carmen was a teacher.[4] At the age of one, he moved with his family to Melbourne, Australia,[5][1] where he spent his childhood until 1972, when they moved to Los Angeles.[2][1] He began his journalism career working on the Sunset High School newspaper in Beaverton, Oregon.[6] While journalism was his primary focus, this was also the period of time in which he developed his penchant for humor and satire. He graduated from Sunset High in 1978.

Sacco earned his BA in journalism from the University of Oregon in 1981 in three years. He was greatly frustrated with the journalist work that he found at the time, later saying, "[I couldn't find] a job writing very hard-hitting, interesting pieces that would really make some sort of difference."[5] After being briefly employed by the journal of the National Notary Association, a job which he found "exceedingly, exceedingly boring,"[4] and several factories, he returned to Malta, his journalist hopes forgotten. "...I sort of decided to forget it and just go the other route, which was basically take my hobby, which has been cartooning, and see if I could make a living out of that," he later told the BBC.[7]

He began working for a local publisher writing guidebooks.[5] Returning to his fondness for comics, he wrote a Maltese romance comic[1] named Imħabba Vera ("True Love"), one of the first art-comics in the Maltese language. "Because Malta has no history of comics, comics weren't considered something for kids," he told The Village Voice. "In one case, for example, the girl got pregnant and she went to Holland for an abortion. Malta is a Catholic country where, at the time, not even divorce was allowed. It was unusual, but it's not like anyone raised a stink about it, because they had no way of judging whether this was appropriate material for comics or not."[8]

Eventually returning to the United States, by 1985 Sacco had founded a satirical, alternative comics magazine called Portland Permanent Press in Portland, Oregon.[1] When the magazine folded fifteen months later, he took a job at The Comics Journal as the staff news writer.[9] This job provided the opportunity for him to create and edit another satire: the comics anthology Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy [10][1] (a name he took from an overcomplicated children's toy in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World), published by The Comics Journal's parent company Fantagraphics Books.

But Sacco was more interested in traveling. In 1988, he left the U.S. again to travel across Europe, a trip which he chronicled in his autobiographical comic Yahoo (also published by Fantagraphics).[10] The trip led him towards the ongoing Gulf War (his obsession with which he talks about in Yahoo #2), and in 1991 he found himself nearby to research the work he would eventually publish as Palestine, a documentary graphic novel, which gathers testimonies of survivors of war and trauma.[11]

The Gulf War segment of Yahoo drew Sacco into a study of Middle Eastern politics, and he traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories to research his first long work. Palestine was a collection of short and long pieces, some depicting Sacco's travels and encounters with Palestinians (and several Israelis), and some dramatizing the stories he was told. It was serialized as a comic book from 1993 to 1995 and then published in several collections, the first of which won an American Book Award in 1996[1] and sold more than 30,000 copies in the UK.[12]

Sacco next travelled to Sarajevo and Goražde near the end of the Bosnian War, and produced a series of reports in the same style as Palestine: the comics Safe Area Goražde, The Fixer, and the stories collected in War's End; the financing for which was aided by his winning of the Guggenheim Fellowship in April 2001.[10][13] Safe Area Goražde won the Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel in 2001.

Sacco in Iraq in 2005 with the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines inside the Haditha Dam

He has also contributed short pieces of graphic reportage to a variety of magazines, on subjects ranging from war crimes to blues, and was a frequent illustrator of Harvey Pekar's American Splendor. In 2005 he wrote and drew two eight-page comics depicting events in Iraq published in The Guardian. He also contributed a 16-page piece in April 2007's issue of Harper's Magazine, entitled "Down! Up! You're in the Iraqi Army Now". In 2009, his Footnotes in Gaza was published, which investigates two forgotten massacres that took place in Khan Younis and Rafah in November 1956.[14] In June 2012, a book on poverty in the United States, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, co-written with journalist Chris Hedges, was published.[15] His latest work is Paying The Land (2020) discussing climate change and the indigenous Dene community of Northwest Canada, who, he says, were subject to cultural genocide by means of compulsory residential schooling, treaties, and capitalism.

Sacco currently lives in Portland, Oregon.[10]


In addition to his 1996 American Book Award, and 2001 Guggenheim Fellowship, Sacco's Safe Area Goražde brought him a Time magazine "Best Comic of 2000" award,[16] followed by the 2001 Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel,[17] and 2001 Eagle Award for Best Original Graphic Novel,[18] and 2001 Harvey Award nomination for Best Writer and Best Graphic Album of Original Work.

The Palestine collection won the 2002 Firecracker Alternative Book Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel.[19]

His Footnotes in Gaza was nominated for the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Graphic Novel award.[20] It received the 2010 Ridenhour Book Prize and the[21] 2012 Oregon Book Award.[22] In 2014, his graphic novel collection Journalism received the Pacific Northwest College of Art Graphic Literature Award in 2014 from the Oregon Book Awards.[23]

Joe Sacco was awarded the degree of Doctor of Literature (Honoris Causa) by the University of Malta on November 17, 2023.[24]


Comic books[edit]



  • 1987–1988: Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy. Fantagraphics Books
  • 1987: Honk!. Fantagraphics Books

Comics journalism stories[edit]



  • 1993: Palestine: A Nation Occupied. Fantagraphics Books. ISBN 978-1560971504 (collects Palestine #1–5)
  • 1996: Palestine: In the Gaza Strip. Fantagraphics Books. ISBN 978-1560973003 (collects Palestine #4–9)
  • 1997: War Junkie. Fantagraphics Books. ISBN 1-56097-170-3.
  • 2000: Safe Area Goražde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992–1995. Fantagraphics Books. ISBN 1-56097-470-2 (expanded edition 2010)
  • 2001: Palestine. Fantagraphics Books. ISBN 1-56097-432-X (collects Palestine #1–9) (expanded edition in 2007)
  • 2003: The Fixer: A Story from Sarajevo. Drawn & Quarterly Books. ISBN 1-896597-60-2
  • 2003: Notes from a Defeatist. Fantagraphics Books. ISBN 1-56097-510-5 (collects Yahoo #1–6)
  • 2005: War's End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995–96. Drawn & Quarterly. ISBN 1-896597-92-0
  • 2006: But I Like It. Fantagraphics Books. ISBN 1-56097-729-9
  • 2009: Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan Books, ISBN 0-8050-7347-7. Jonathan Cape, ISBN 0-224-07109-2
  • 2012: Journalism. Metropolitan Books, ISBN 978-0-8050-9486-2
  • 2013: The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-08880-9
  • 2014: Bumf Vol. 1: I Buggered the Kaiser. Fantagraphics Books. ISBN 978-1-60699-748-2
  • 2020: Paying the Land. Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 9781627799034

As illustrator[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Steinhauer, Jillian. "The Outsider: Joe Sacco's comics journalism," Archived January 26, 2021, at the Wayback Machine The Nation (Dec. 28, 2020).
  2. ^ a b Drawn & Quarterly (2004). Joe Sacco: Biography Archived June 21, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved April 24, 2006.
  3. ^ Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith (eds.), Icons of the American Comic Book, Vol. 1, ABC-CLIO, 2013, p. 638
  4. ^ a b Duncan Campbell (October 23, 2003). 'I do comics, not graphic novels'. The Guardian. Retrieved April 26, 2006.
  5. ^ a b c Read Yourself RAW. Profile: Joe Sacco Archived April 14, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved April 25, 2006.
  6. ^ Johnson, Barry (May 28, 2012). "Weekend Wrap: Sacco, Blues & 'Jamb'". Oregon Public Broadcasting. Archived from the original on May 13, 2019. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  7. ^ Ben Arnold (August 27, 2004). Telephone interview with Joe Sacco Archived November 2, 2012, at the Wayback Machine (.ram file, source: Interview with Joe Sacco Archived January 11, 2014, at the Wayback Machine). BBC. Retrieved April 26, 2006.
  8. ^ Hillary Chute (July 19, 2005). Stand Up Comics Archived May 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. The Village Voice. Retrieved April 26, 2006.
  9. ^ Gary Groth (October 4, 2001). Joe Sacco, Frontline Journalist: Why Sacco went to Gorazde Archived October 4, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. The Comics Journal (a magazine owned and operated by Fantagraphics Books). Retrieved April 26, 2006.
  10. ^ a b c d Fantagraphics Books. Joe Sacco Archived March 21, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved April 25, 2006.
  11. ^ Priyadarshini, Arya; Sigroha, Suman (July 3, 2020). "Recovering the Palestinian History of Dispossession through Graphics in Leila Abdelrazaq's Baddawi". Eikón / Imago. 9: 395–418. doi:10.5209/eiko.73329. ISSN 2254-8718. S2CID 225546879. Archived from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  12. ^ Eyeglass in Gaza Archived May 3, 2019, at the Wayback Machine Interview in "The Guardian".
  13. ^ Guggenheim Foundation 2001 Fellows Page, Guggenheim Foundation (2001) Archived July 1, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved October 7, 2006.
  14. ^ Cooke, Rachel (November 22, 2009). "Eyeless in Gaza". The Observer. Archived from the original on May 3, 2019. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
  15. ^ "Chris Hedges – Lannan Foundation". Lannan.org. Archived from the original on December 8, 2012. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  16. ^ "The Scottish photojournalist who turned the horror of life as a child soldier into a graphic novel". HeraldScotland. October 25, 2015. Archived from the original on May 20, 2021. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  17. ^ "Awards 2000s". Comic-Con International: San Diego. December 2, 2012. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  18. ^ "2000 Eagle Awards". www.hahnlibrary.net. Archived from the original on February 15, 2022. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
  19. ^ "Firecracker Alternative Book Awards". ReadersRead.com. Archived from the original on March 4, 2009.
  20. ^ "2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalists". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 11, 2014.
  21. ^ "Joe Sacco: 2010 Recipient of The Ridenhour Book Prize," Archived September 30, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Ridenhour website. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  22. ^ "Syndicated Comics". April 24, 2012. Archived from the original on May 13, 2014. Retrieved May 12, 2014.
  23. ^ "2014 Oregon Book Awards Finalists & Fellowship Recipients". January 6, 2014. Archived from the original on February 18, 2014. Retrieved May 12, 2014.
  24. ^ "Judge Philip Sciberras (posthumously) and Cartoonist Joe Sacco awarded Honoris Causa degrees by UM". University of Malta. Archived from the original on November 18, 2023. Retrieved November 18, 2023.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Comics by Sacco