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Joe Sacco Gorazde :

Metalife

Text : Aurore Lehmann, Montreal

In his writings and images, the journalist and writer of comic books, Joe Sacco, gives form to the martyrdom of the city of Gorazde, a Muslim enclave besieged by the Serbian army from 1992 to 1995, and at the same time gives rise to the documentary comic strip. His is a shocking and deeply moving account of an overlooked reality between death and the struggle for life

Gorazde was one of those names that came up many times during the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s, a name quickly relegated to the forgetfulness of history because it was nothing more than a point on a map for the spectators we are. Joe Sacco gives it body and soul by reconstituting, based on an experience lived on site during nearly a month and several witness accounts, the near-intolerable trauma of genocide committed by Serbian soldiers in the city.

Located some ten kilometres from Sarajevo in Western Bosnia, Gorazde owes its particular status to its geographic position on the Serbian border and its population consisting of Orthodox Serbs and a Muslim majority. During the conflict that broke out in 1992, it was declared a security zone by the United Nations, which failed (for matters of interest) to intervene directly in protecting the population. In the space of a few weeks, Gorazde fell into absolute chaos. Muslims were massacred by the hundreds—at times by their very neighbours, former colleagues or friends. Rapes, bombings, pillaging and crimes were committed under the eyes of the international community engaged in endless peace talks.

Unlike the cities of Zepa and Srebrenica, which were completely abandoned by UN forces, Gorazde “benefited” from a link with the rest of Bosnia due to the opening of a road, known as the Blue Road, intended for the passage of humanitarian aid convoys.

 For three years, international observers and journalists flocked to the enclave. Ironically, the massacres reached their deadly peak at the same time.

Light years away, we were bombarded with televised rundowns of events, and Joe Sacco managed with immediacy to bring us the daily life of people who for three years lived with the certainty of near death. The comic strip’s success lies precisely in its consistently striking a balance between accurately representing reality and depicting the situation in a humanistic way. As a journalist, Joe Sacco favours eyewitness accounts to which he adds his own perspective as well as historical context. Everything weaves together into a particularly well worked canvas, even if chronological order is ignored, allowing readers to better understand the conflict’s issues. The tone is neutral, and the author seems to want to play the part of a relay between the inhabitants of Gorazde in their setting and the reader who becomes directly involved.

The choice of the comic strip to depict the experiences enforces the subject matter. Joe Sacco draws in his visuals everything that is immediate and powerful from photographic documentary and cinema, and uses the written text to give a sense of timelessness to reality. Set on paper is the shared history of Gozarde’s inhabitants, especially their individual experiences, which become prime examples of events. The author relies on graphic realism to let emotions burst forth. The accounts and the faces drawn dead on seem to directly appeal to the reader who cannot but see the horror. His lines are thin and his contrasts at times violent due to the almost pointillist treatment of the image. Added to this hyper-realism is an added photographic composition of the image, a poignant point of view and perspectives that enhance the message.

He depicts faces twisted in fear or anticipation, tired eyes that have witnessed the unspeakable, and characters marked by suffering, hope or renunciation.In such a way he goes to the limits of objectivity where the man takes over the journalist and gives us at the same time his familiar spokespeopleHis work also brings out the absurdity of a conflict mainly characterized by the misunderstandings of two sides. The Gorazde comic strip in its dynamism and rhythmic quality goes beyond all dialogue. Joe Sacco succeeds in two editions to tear down the wall of indifference.