BOB GARFIELD: Joe Sacco is a journalist, a cartoonist...and a cartoon journalist. Drawing himself into his books and strips as a kind of bespectacled everyman, he literally illustrates the difficulties involved in reporting from war zones around the world. In his book about the Bosnian war, set in the annexed and embattled town of Gorazde, he's embarrassed that he can come and go while his new friends remain in danger. In the Palestinian refugee camps he sheepishly eats while his hosts describe their experiences in the Israeli detention centers. Now he's on a new and very different beat -- a comic strip campaign diary for the Washington Monthly called Meanwhile in America. Joe, welcome to the show.
JOE SACCO: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Are you going to be a boy in the bus for the campaign diary? Are you going to wait for the story to come to you? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
JOE SACCO: No, no. I mean the idea is not to follow the campaign around or even pay particular attention to the details of what a candidate is saying. I don't want to just have sort of a diatribe about politics, but I want to show it in the context of real life, in real life you sit on the toilet, in real life you're having an argument over a meal, in real life you're wash--washing the dishes.
BOB GARFIELD:So how would you compare covering the American political campaign with, for example, covering a genocidal siege on a supposedly protected city or in Palestinian camps where people are living in very difficult conditions?
JOE SACCO: Well the books I did about the Palestinians and about the Bosnians are more journalistic. I mean I went there, I did my interviews, I came back and I wrote and drew the books, and it's about their stories. The, the Washington strip pieces are a little more polemical. They're journalistic only in the sense in, in that I try to be accurate about the people I am talking to and the conversations I'm having. But I think my opinion is creeping into them more.
BOB GARFIELD: Well your other work is certainly not without a point of view. Would you regard yourself as an objective journalist?
JOE SACCO:No, I wouldn't regard myself as an objective journalist. Not at all. I mean I, I think what I'm trying to do with my work about the Palestinians and the Bosnians is-- is present my point of view, but, but let the facts speak for themselves. In the case of the Washington Monthly strip, I'm not afraid to outright express my opinion, no holds barred. I don't like the Bush administration. I have no problem saying that.
BOB GARFIELD:Well I guess when you're working from a point of view, cartooning puts you at a tremendous advantage, because while you're drawing what you're seeing, the way in which you draw what you're seeing can very much color the reader's perception of the events. No?
JOE SACCO: No, I think that's true. I mean you can write something very objectively, as you had put it before. But then the drawing can be a counterpoint to that somehow. Journalists write very dispassionately about horrible events, and that sort of thing is lost often when you're reading it. Journalists sort of pride themselves on being dispassionate, but I can inject the passion of what goes on into the drawings, I think.
BOB GARFIELD:If you went about your business a different way and tried to take point of view out of it, would that even be possible? Aren't you almost by definition as a cartoonist a subjective journalist?
JOE SACCO: No, not necessarily I think. I mean I think there are ways I could draw something so it would be considered objective. The way I could do that is to draw myself out of the comics. If I was just to draw what I'm seeing as if I was a camera, I think that would be considered more objective. But I've placed myself in my comics partially to tip the reader off, to let the reader know that they're seeing everything through my eyes, that this is one person's viewpoint. You know, when I go to a place like Gaza, I'm a westerner going into Gaza. I want the reader to know that. You know, I think it's something that most journalists don't really let the reader know, that they are not from that place. They're not so smart that they understand everything that they could report something objectively. I've got my prejudices, and I tend to wear them on my cuff in my work, but I think that's valuable for the reader to know.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Joe, thank you very much.
JOE SACCO: Well I enjoyed talking to you.
BOB GARFIELD:Joe Sacco is a journalist, a cartoonist, a columnist for the Washington Monthly and author of The Fixer: The Story of a Serb Loyal to the Bosnian Government during the Siege of Sarajevo.