JOE SACCO’S WARS END reviewed in Georgetown Voice

War journalism in black and white

Georgetown Voice - Leisure    |    Sonia Smith    |    August 25, 2005

In Sacco's new War's End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995-1998, the inked minarets of Sarajevo's shelled mosques reach upwards, defiantly peeking out behind the socialist high rises.

In his meticulously drawn panels accompanied by insightful text, Sacco deftly captures moments more conventional correspondents lack the will or access to describe. He successfully reports the little things; he shows the idleness pervading the lives of Sarajevo's residents as they wait for the return of both running water and, someday, normalcy.

In the book's two profiles, Sacco covers an artist-warrior's grubby nights out among Sarajevo's youth in "Soba" and the morally ambiguous trip he took with two American radio correspondents to interview a war criminal in "Christmas with Karadzic."

Soba, with his brows locked in a permanent furrow, lets Sacco accompany him to his neighborhood bar, where he often heads after a day spent removing landmines and planting new ones. As Nirvana and German metal waft through the speakers, Sacco notes that Soba treats the bar like the front, strategically positioning himself next to his interests (which are often female).

As both an artist and a soldier, Soba laments to Sacco that the countless foreign correspondents combing the capital have repeatedly used him for their cliche "youth-in-Sarajevo" profiles.

Sacco humanizes Soba, who remains conflicted about the war and its personal implications for him. The international attention that the war has garnered for local artists means Soba finally has the opportunity to exhibit his artwork abroad and to study in Italy. When presented with this chance, however, Soba remains wary of becoming "just another refugee from Bosnia."

After the peace accords are signed, Soba stays around, performing in his rock band to a local audience with discriminating taste. The sadness he carries somehow matters less in Sarajevo, where among his shattered peers he can continue to be himself. "People think we have nothing here. They think Sarajevo is the end of the world, but it is exactly the opposite," he muses.

Sacco himself only appears in a few panels in the first tale, but is integral to the second. In "Christmas" he chronicles a Christmas-day trip he took to attend church services alongside Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Serbs, a man who remains one of the most wanted men in the world today.

After receiving a tip about where ex-communist Karadzic will be celebrating Christmas, the correspondents flash their press credentials liberally as they fly through checkpoints on the way to the church. The NBC radio stringer hangs his microphone out the car window on the way, hoping to record Kalashnikov fire along with the peals of the bells.

Sacco quietly laments his own guilt at not feeling anger or hatred when in the room with Karadzic, a man who has been accused of the slaughter of almost 10,000 Bosnian Muslims and Croats.

"I feel nothing intimidating about his presence, nothing extraordinary about this man indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal for crimes against humanity, a man I have despised with all my heart for years," he says.

His reservations about not turning such a man in are artfully juxtaposed with the other journalists' unabashed glee at getting their exclusive interview.

Sacco succeeds best where he says little, letting his vivid pictures speak for themselves. On the whole, the lines in "Christmas" are smoother, the drawings less stark, speaking to the journalists' temporary existence in the war zone. International attention will shift and they will leave, but the war will stay with ordinary residents like Soba, indelibly etched on their existence.

War's End is Sacco's third work of "cartoon journalism." He previously chronicled the destruction in the Balkans in 1998's Safe Zone Gorazde. Edward Said wrote the introduction for Palestine, Sacco's two-volume novel based on his extensive travel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1996.

War correspondent Joe Sacco uses a very unconventional medium to examine how the effects of war linger after the fighting ends: graphic nonfiction.

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