Border Crossing

COMIC: Safe Area Gorazde
Joe Sacco

Fantagraphics Books -- 2000

Joe Sacco has carved out a niche in comics, which, if not necessary wholly unique, is one he's most certainly made his own. Sacco is the foremost practitioner of the unlikely genre of comics journalism, and in his hands, you'll start to wish that more journalism was presented this way.

Safe Area Gorazde is the central piece in a series of books and stories Sacco produced from time spent in Bosnia during the war. Sacco spent months going between the cities of Sarajevo and Gorazde, the latter of which is the primary concern of this book. Gorazde was a U.N. designated "safe area," one of six enclaves supposedly protected by U.N. forces, and the only one in eastern Bosnia not ultimately overrun by the Serbs (though not for a lack of effort).

Whereas most journalists would ride in with the morning convoy, get their soundbites, and ride out with the afternoon convoy, Sacco spent time living with the people of Gorazde, seeing how they survived, hearing their stories, getting a sense of the personalities involved. As a result, Sacco's writing has a breadth and depth conveyed by no other reportage of the Bosnian war that I've ever encountered.

The chapters in Gorazde fall into three loose categories (which often crossover effortlessly); Sacco's first-hand experiences with the people of Gorazde, the stories of war and survival that they share with him, and some pretty straight, uncomplicated history of the region and conflict.

 To the vast majority of Americans, the "war" in Bosnia was just more backward people killing each other in places with hard-to-say names. Granted, neither the mainstream press, nor the U.S. government, nor even the U.N. did a consistent or accurate job in conveying the facts of the situation. Sacco remedies that. By telling the stories of the people who lived through it, and showing them, at home in their battered environment, he gives not only a face and voice to the people, but a context and framework for understanding. Safe Area Gorazde is potent journalism for anyone who ever wondered what "the whole Bosnia thing" was all about, as well as anyone who followed the situation closely and wants to add some meat to the bare bones of mainstream journalism.

Sacco's illustration isn't the kind of polished technique-fest that readers primarily accustomed to mainstream comics will be used to, but his talent for observation, texture and character give Gorazde a palpable sense of place and feeling. The passion and detail that he puts into Gorazde's shell-pocked streets, burned and blasted homes, scarred and wounded refugees and their desperate, weary faces lend his storytelling authenticity and credibility.

Joe Sacco is one of comics' truly unique and visionary talents, and Safe Area Gorazde is a masterful achievement in an already admirable career.

Crosspost Classic!  8.10.2007

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