Interview with Joe Sacco

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Print: Why is now a good time to release the expanded version of Palestine?

Sacco: In some ways, it’s a sad commentary that a book like this, set during the First Intifada more than 15 years ago, still has some relevance. Unfortunately, the Palestinian issue is not going away any time soon, and if this new edition reminds the reader of the plight of the people there, then it still has a place.

Are you still using the same methods in your creative process?

Basically, I still use the same methods, though I’ve refined them. I still do interviews. I still keep a journal no matter how tired I am. I still take photos for reference. Now I tend to organize my work better after I’m back home. I spend more time indexing and cross-referencing my notes so I’m never lost in looking up a name or incident.

What’s the most difficult part of your process?

The most difficult part is writing a script. Writing is always hard. Drawing is challenging, but it’s much easier than writing. The problem with drawing is that it seems to go on forever. I spend two months somewhere, and I’m drawing for years and years—not that I’m complaining. As one of my relatives once said about my complaining, “You’re not working in a quarry.”

Palestine was drawn in a pre-Photoshop era, and part of the book shows your notes to the publisher’s “colorist” indicating color choices for the cover. Were there other challenges like this?

Challenges are relative. Certainly the methods I was using are long out-of-date, and I suppose computers have made things easier, but the truth is I am not particularly computer literate so I still do everything by hand. That’s how I prefer it. I don’t like shortcuts. In my mind, rather ridiculously, computers equals cheating. Anyway, some of my lines are so fine they would get distorted in a digitized process. I think my work still needs to be shot by a camera rather than scanned.

Have you ever had any desire to work within a different form?

I still want to work as a cartoonist, but there are only so many years I have left on me as far as reporting goes. Traveling and living rough for a short time isn’t such a problem. The problem is the years of work drawing a book. Three or four major projects equals about two decades, and how many useful decades do I have? I’d like to work on shorter journalism pieces. Beyond that, I’d like to experiment with comics essays and fiction. I wish I had four or five creative lives to live to explore all the possibilities. I’d be a writer in another life.