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Safe Area Goražde – a review

Along with Palestine, Safe Area Goražde (pronounced go-raj-DUH) is considered the epitome of Joe Sacco’s comic journalism work. It chronicles Sacco’s time spent in Goražde (in eastern Bosnia) during the Bosnian War. There is a mixture of Sacco’s time there and the stories and experiences of those that Sacco met. Sacco uses Goražde as a case study for the whole Bosnian conflict, with a unique flavor of the region’s inhabitants and society. It’s an ambitious project and is incredibly successful.

I’ll get straight to the point; Safe Area Goražde is an amazing piece of not only graphic and journalistic work, but great-period. It’s a complex collection of narratives that shows the complexity and emotionally heaviness that make up the history and social structure of Bosnia. Sacco guides the reader from the lighter moments of everyday life, the political and military details of the conflict, very personal stories of those living through the war, and the grim specifics on the process of ethnic cleansing. The tone shifts very naturally between its different types of material. I never questioned the order and placement of the segments. The whole piece is incredibly informative and intimate in its emotions. There are moments that are hard to read. I personally almost started crying in the middle of reading this. Saying that Safe Area Goražde is intense would be a understatement.

As a piece of journalism, the piece is more subjective than it is objective. There is a far greater attention to the citizens of Goražde, primarily Bozniaks and Croats, than there is on Serbs. As such, one may be disappointed in that they won’t see a complete dissection of the Bosnian conflict. However, the fact that there is greater attention to a specific group allows Sacco to collect and show a focused collection of stories and experiences. The subjectivity of the piece works for the greater advantage.

Safe Area Goražde‘s art is strong throughout. Landscapes and the city of Goražde are all very detailed. Sacco himself is the only ‘cartoony’ bit of the art. (Sacco said in an interview that this was deliberate and something that carried over from his earlier, ‘more cartoony,’ Palestine.) The art coupled with the emotional stories of those Sacco make for a powerful combination. It is often difficult to work through a particular section of the book due either to graphic content or the strong emotions carried by the narrative (not mutually exclusive). Safe Area Goražde is incredibly successful in the ways it employs its art.

This whole review has essentially been an understatement itself. Safe Area Goražde is easily one of my favorite graphic works, as well as one of my favorite books I own. I found it more powerful than Sacco’s earlier Palestine (though Palestine is also really good). The narrative is intense, informative, and emotional all at once. The art fits the narrative and largely enhances the narrative. I find it impossible not to recommend Safe Area Goražde to anyone interested in what comics can do. Safe Area Goražde is an amazing piece and something I won’t forget.

 

 

Safe Area Goražde is written and drawn by Joe Sacco. It is published by Fantagraphic Books.

Note: Safe Area Goražde has both graphic violence and emotionally intense moments and may not be suitable for younger audiences.

There is also a special edition of Safe Area Goraždethat includes notes, photos, and interviews regarding the production of Safe Area Goražde that offer a lot of insight. I highly recommend shelling a little extra just for this.

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