Joe Sacco’s literary and artistic narrative, Safe Area Gorazde, effectively portrays the horrors and realities of the war that broke out in Eastern Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. The book describes the author’s experiences during four months spent in Bosnia between 1994 and 1995, and is based on conversations with Bosniaks trapped within the enclave of Gorazde. Considered as a graphic journalist, the author depicts the real nature of this atrocious war by alternating between his narrations, the interviews he made during his visit and vivid panels of images that clearly communicate to the reader the horrific events.
The journalistic comic book is written in a readable and organized manner. When coupled with the imagery of the graphic novel genre it delivers a great deal of insight into daily existence during a horrible era in modern European history. Through loud images, interesting interviews, and an effective narration, Joe Sacco is able to share with his audience the atrocities of war, how it disintegrates families and cities, and the importance of family loyalty; themes that are vitally seen in the “Disintegration” vignette of Safe Area Gorazde.
The story takes place in Gorazde, a city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where political tension is rising and a war is clearly escalating. Fearing the worst, Slovenia and Croatia declare independence from Yugoslavia, while Bosnian Serbs are quickly trying to organize their armed forces. All this turmoil at home causes Edin, the main character and a graduate student who was studying engineering in Sarajevo, to return to his homeland in order to protect his family. Days before the beginning of the war, the tension between Bosniaks and Serbs is clear as they segregate each other around several parts of the city. In 1992, the first attack is made on Gorazde, in which people are raped, cruelly massacred and left homeless. Despite this, residents of the area manage to take back Gorazde even though they are living without the basic necessities of life such as food and water.
With the illusion of the United States coming in to help, the people in Gorazde feel that the war is coming to an end, until they are surprised with a second attack in 1994. The situation grinds forward and a third attack occurs in 1995 killing over 7,000 people. Throughout all this turmoil, the international scene, including the United States and the U.N., turn a blind eye on the situation until the media exploits the events all over the world, forcing the United States to bomb strategic Serb positions and ultimately put an end to this conflict. In the end, Edin and his friend, a pivotal character named Riki, go on to Sarajevo to continue their studies and try to put everything on their past.
Joe Sacco tries to tell the story through the narrations of Edin and conversations with other residents of Gorazde, giving the readers get an inside look on the effects the war has on civilians and families. The narrative is a day to day account of conversations between soldiers, teachers, teenage girls, refugees, friends, families, and their experiences during the Balkan conflict. Even though it is clear that the author tries to narrate through the conversations of others so that his perspective on the conflict does not soak up the story, his biased is seen as he clearly highlights how ineffective and downright cowardly the UN approach was, singling out British Lt. General Rose and French Lt. General Janvier for lying and dissembling in order to avoid conflict, and the Clinton administration for being inept and vacillating toward the Serbs. In the narrative Sacco tries to subconsciously remind the readers that throughout the war, due to a total lack of leadership and moral will from above, UN forces were pushed around, held hostage, and at times fled into the night rather than protect the civilians they were supposed to. These insightful and descriptive interviews combined with vivid black and white panels of images that at times might have been somewhat grotesque, introduce a new and successful style of journalism to readers.
Several themes were introduced in Safe Area Gorazde but the one that really caught my attention was the brutalities of war, how it destroys families, cities, and how no matter what how family members are always loyal to each other. These themes are vitally portrayed in the vignette titled “Disintegration.” “I spent five years at college [in Sarajevo]…I heard there would be trouble. If there would be war, I thought it would be better if I were with my parents so I took a bus and came back to Gorazde (Sacco 39).” This quote clearly shows the loyalty Edin, the main character, has to his family and how he feels that in times of trouble he should go back and support his family. In another quotation we can see how families were literally torn apart: “…the first list of killed people from Gorazde came, and the first name on the list was my husband’s. (Sacco 43).”
Combined with intense and talented black ink images of people’s reactions towards the war, Joe Sacco clearly portrays one of the most important themes in the vignette known as “Disintegration.”While graphic novels have been around for quite a while, graphic journalism or history has not. Sacco is a pioneer of this extremely humanistic new genre, and here he bears witness to the horrors of the war in Bosnia. In the narrative he bears witness and hopefully makes the reader more conscious of the failings of leadership in preventing another world catastrophe. United States loves to pat itself on the back for defeating the Nazis, but somehow they’ve managed to avoid any responsibility for allowing genocide to continue, even when it’s been clearly within their ability to do so. Personally, several vignettes about what was really going on in the U.N. and the White House would have made the overall plot of the story more intuitive and interesting.
Sacco, Joe. Safe Area Gorazde. 2000. Ed. Kim Thompson. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2006.
Wikipedia. “Bosnian War.” Wikipedia. Sept.-Oct. 2008. Wikimedia Foundation. 14 Sept. 2008.