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Safe Area Gorazde s/c
by Joe Sacco
ISBN 1560974702 / 9781560974703 / 1-56097-470-2
Publisher Fantagraphics Books
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In the waning days of the Bosnian war, Joe Sacco, the cartoonist behind the acclaimed Palestine, made several visits to Gorazde, a UN "safe area" that had been repeatedly attacked by Serb forces. Sacco interviewed survivors of the siege of Gorazde and assembled their recollections into Safe Area Gorazde, a harrowing documentary comic destined to become a classic of war reporting. Sacco depicts the atrocities of the war in simple, restrained panels, but his attention to detail is everywhere, from the accurate renderings of mortar scars on the landscape to the history lessons carefully embedded throughout the comic. Sacco never descends into sensationalism or exploitation of the war's victims, but instead adopts a subjective gaze that places readers into hiding spots from which they can only catch glimpses of the murders and rapes. Sacco leaves the particulars of these crimes up to the imagination of his readers, which is appropriate enough given the unthinkable nature of what took place in Gorazde.
The real impact of Safe Area lies in Sacco's immersion in the daily life of Gorazde. While other journalists left Gorazde as soon as they had the clips they needed, Sacco lived in the town for weeks at a time, becoming a vicarious resident. Although the conflict was largely over by this point, Gorazde was still surrounded, and Sacco was an eyewitness to his friends' struggle not only to survive but also to maintain their sanity. Safe Area is not just a catalog of horrors and a condemnation of international indifference; it's also a moving portrayal of the human capacity to endure almost any hardship. Sacco refuses to fall into any clichés about the triumph of the human spirit here--the people of Gorazde themselves reject such notions--but he does offer up Safe Area as a testament to its survival. --Peter Darbyshire [via]