cover image Safe Area Gorazde

Safe Area Gorazde

Joe Sacco. Fantagraphics Books, $28.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-1-56097-392-8

In 1995, 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 deep within Serb territory and under military siege by Orthodox Christian Serb nationalists. Sacco spent the next four months among the 57,000 residents of this imperiled enclave. His new work of comics reportage brings exceptional historical context to the tragic individual stories produced by the dissolution of Yugoslavia. An extraordinary work of both journalism and comics nonfiction, it attempts to make sense of a conflict that many in the West find too confusing or too gruesome to follow. Sacco strikes up friendships with Gorazdens, interviews dozens of refugees and retells, in their words and his drawings, the horrific events of the three-and-a-half-year war that led to the town's isolation and near destruction. Sacco befriends Edin, a Muslim school teacher who becomes his guide and translator, who tells Sacco his own family's story of war suffering. The book captures both the minor difficulties of life under siege (e.g., the swelling and discoloring of hands from washing clothes in freezing spring water) to ever more harrowing accounts of Serb nationalist atrocities (among them, rousing sleeping villagers and telling them, ""You won't need shoes, you're going to be killed""). Sacco's compulsively detailed, realistic drawings provide tremendous emotional information beyond his powerful text; coupled with the personal stories, the book is almost overwhelming. Although Sacco's depictions of Serb-inflicted degradations and atrocities are uncompromising and at times excruciating, the graphics are neither gratuitous nor sensational. Asked why his Serb neighbors would burn down his house, Edin can only reply, ""I don't know, I would like to ask them."" Some questions may never be answered, but this book is essential reading for anyone still asking. (July)