Joe Sacco (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.
Sacco was born in Malta on October 2, 1960. His father Leonard was an engineer and his mother Carmen was a teacher. At the age of one, he moved with his family to Melbourne, Australia, where he spent his childhood until 1972, when they moved to Los Angeles. He began his journalism career working on the Sunset High School newspaper in Beaverton, Oregon. 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." After being briefly employed by the journal of the National Notary Association, a job which he found "exceedingly, exceedingly boring," 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.
He began working for a local publisher writing guidebooks. Returning to his fondness for comics, he wrote a Maltese romance comic 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."
Eventually returning to the United States, by 1985 Sacco had founded a satirical, alternative comics magazine called Portland Permanent Press in Portland, Oregon. When the magazine folded fifteen months later, he took a job at The Comics Journal as the staff news writer. This job provided the opportunity for him to create and edit another satire: the comics anthology Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy (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 travelling. 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). 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.
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 and sold more than 30,000 copies in the UK.
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. Safe Area Goražde won the Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel in 2001.
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. 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.
Sacco currently lives in Portland, Oregon.
In addition to his 1996 American Book Award, 2001 Guggenheim Fellowship, and 2001 Eisner Award, Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza was nominated for the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Graphic Novel award. Sacco was awarded the 2010 Ridenhour Book Prize for Footnotes in Gaza. He was award the 2012 Oregon Book Award for Footnotes in Gaza and 2014 Oregon Book Award Finalist for Journalism.