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Safe Area Gorazde By Ed Mathews
Occasionally, a book comes out that is so good that it deserves a special focus. Let me digress for a moment… often you will see the words "comic journalist" bandied about by different people who, essentially, are rewriting press releases. We are not an exception to that rule here at The Slush Factory by the way, although we do manage to squeeze out a scoop here and there. However, understand that what we do is info-tainment and, let's be real people. It may look very much like journalism, but we are here to entertain. We do follow the pattern of a journalist, we verify our sources, and we interview people involved in the process of the work we are examining, but understand that comic "news" is very different from news in comic format. Ed Mathews is a PR rep's monkey with occasional glimpses of integrity who will never intentionally give you an incorrect news item (I did write press releases for Saint Peter's College for 2 years and worked on their internal publications). Joe Sacco, on the other hand, is a comic journalist. SAFE AREA GORAZDE: The War In Eastern Bosnia 1992 - 1995 ($28.95 US, Fantagraphics) is the book we will now focus on.
SAFE AREA GORAZDE is a 240-page examination of the war in the former Yugoslavia. Joe Sacco spent four months investigating, researching, and interviewing the people of the small city of Gorazde. The focus is on the Muslim enclave that lived there and their experiences as a people who were cut off from the rest of modern society. Reading this book as a person who keeps up on world events was an experience, and unfortunately, one that verified everything as a person trained in Political Science was certain that the mainstream media was at best overlooking and at worst, ignoring. Sacco managed to evoke a feeling of utter disgust out of me with how badly this situation was handled by the international community. And he did it in a fairly balanced way.
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This book is very informative to those who know very little about the situation in Bosnia outside of news clips on Headline News. Sacco plays the part of the teacher for the person new to the details of the situation in Bosnia, and the part of and the widened eyes in a war that didn't make for decent, pat, 30-second analysis on the evening news. The images that Sacco displays, and please understand that Sacco does have a degree in journalism from the University of Oregon, are raw. Nothing is held back. No one is spared. These are the images that CNN didn't show you. This is a book that should be required reading in college survey courses in politics and in journalism courses.
When reading this, I could only go back and think of a comment once made by yours truly back when Bush was still in office and the first images of concentration camps were beamed into our homes through CNN. "Again?" We repeated our mistake from World War II, people! I'm so impressed with our ability to ignore the plight of people in genuine need. How I wished that those Muslims struck oil at the time! Bet we'd have been over there in a jiffy fixing things then. By we, I mean NATO, of course. The blame cannot fall completely at the feet of the US. Then again, by NATO, we generally mean… but I digress again.
Sacco brings the every day lives of a people living under what can only be termed as bizarre circumstances in modern society. The bravery and the realism that is displayed in this book is amazing. We are also privy to the fact that these people can never live normal lives again. The utter feeling of betrayal by former friends and neighbors is apparent in Sacco's retelling of history. There is also a tale of how people tried to live out some semblance of a normal life under these circumstances; trying to laugh, trying to dance, clinging on to hope.