June 30, 2020

Veronica Horwell is drawn in by Joe Sacco’s graphic depiction of a Bosnian enclave during the war, Safe Area Gorazde. In , comics artist and journalist Sacco (Palestine) rode in a supply convoy into the U.N.-designated safe area of Gorazde, a small Bosnian Muslim town. In late and early , cartoonist/reporter Joe Sacco travelled four times to Gorazde, a UN-designated safe area during the Bosnian War.

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By page nine I stopped noticing that Joe Sacco’s work was graphic reportage. By then his cartoon gogazde had become simply the most direct, unobtrusive means of narration for the stories of Gorazde in Bosnia from In the old federated Yugoslavia, this had been a minor industrial town along the valley of the River Drina, permanent population 18, one-third Serbian, two-thirds Bosniac; in the wartime Balkans, it was a UN-designated safe enclave, impermanent population 57, Bosniacs, hardly a Serb left inside to speak of or spit at, surrounded by an inner cordon of Serbian forces and an outer zone of villages and towns from which all surviving Bosniacs had been expelled.

In the autumn of Nato, shamed by the fall of Srebrenica, the other main safe area in the region, bombed Gorazde’s Serb besiegers. UN relief convoys reached the haven along the route east out of Sarajevo, called the Gorazse Road after the colour of UN helmets and berets.

Sacco came in with the truck column, trailing the hack pack there to grab a quick overview while the destination was in the news.

They came, they camera’d, they soundbit, they distributed bonbons to the kids and they went. Sacco, goraxde, stayed in the enclave on and off for months.


Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco – Penguin Books Australia

As he draws himself, which he doesn’t often, he’s stubby with big ears, all the better to hear everybody with. He pens no suggestion of eyes sacdo his round glasses, but they are in there all szcco, focused near and far, missing nothing: Sacco found in Gorazde his guide and main man Edin, a postgraduate student, teacher, soldier and civic spirit.

And, being a talented dweller in corners, Sacco moved on to a couch in what was left of Edin’s family home after shells, fire and a shit-smearing Serb occupation.

Now and again, Sacco jeo an Unprofor-protected lift to the capital to fetch and carry for his new pals, still stuck far behind enemy lines: But mostly what he did was to patiently record and observe.

Because Sacco is so meticulous about details – he always gets the shape of the boots spot on, and the splat pattern of a mortar hit or the viscosity of blood pools – I accepted at once the reality in his imaginings of butchery on the bridge at Visegrad goorazde death by exposure along the midwinter track up to the victualling point at Grebak.

The storytellers don’t edit or expostulate or exaggerate – the worse the events, the plainer their words, and Sacco attends to their simplicity. He tidily subdivides his page into neat frames that show how the value of a life might be reduced to a szcco of flour or a pack of Drina cigarettes of peculiar foulness.

People drag on Drinas with extreme satisfaction in single frames, deadly little images of desperation. The deep dark is hiding inside the smokers as well as out.


A rough guide to conflict

Edin’s own snow trek up to Grebak is slotted into his prolonged narrative of how he and Gorazde fared from the end of peace in to Augustwhen British peacekeepers evacuated the town, leaving their camp to be scavenged by the townsfolk, who believed themselves doomed by the desertion: This account is cross-cut with many other testimonies, a very rough, but deadly accurate, guide to the history of the conflict with strategic maps, and brief interludes in which Sacco catches an incident or a mood.

He’s very discreet about his presence there as “a guest of the war” and doesn’t intrude on his hosts or readers. Taking part in terrible history doesn’t preclude people from being otherwise exasperatingly human, often at about 90 decibels in your face, and Sacco understands that the experiences of those who were young and frightened and silly in basements barely lit by single candles in will determine the future in the Balkans for at least the next half-century.

Since the caption and speech bubble format strip away all superfluities, no adjectives and no adverbs required, none of the personal fragments comes over as an indulgence.

Neither do occasional half-pages given over to Sacco’s own memories: In the end it will probably all be destroyed. History books Comics and graphic novels Joe Sacco reviews.