May 2005

Clayton Moore


War's End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995-96 by Joe Sacco

Back in the deep end of the comic book racks, Joe Sacco has returned with another scathing set of adventures from way behind the headlines. Following in the giant footsteps of the Maltese cartoonist’s earlier political work including Palestine, a two-volume treatise on the Gaza Strip as well as Safe Area Gorazde and The Fixer, other massive volumes portraying the desperate war in the former Yugoslavia, Sacco has added War’s End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995-96.

Acting as sort of deleted scenes from Safe Area Gorazde, the two stories in War’s End are mini-biographies of two dramatically different men, but they also encompass the motley crew of media war junkies, criminals, soldiers and smugglers that have all been drawn in by the war. They also capture the desperate struggle of civilians trapped in a war zone in a dramatic manner that meets and exceeds the best war journalism of its time.

In the first story, "Christmas with Karadzic," Sacco opens with a car chase far too bizarre for any Hollywood film as the author and his renegade freelancing partner Kasey rocket past armed checkpoints. What’s the rush? Kasey, a stringer for NBC Radio, Voice of America, the BBC and others, has gotten a tip on a location for Serbian war leader Radovan Karadzic, wanted for crimes against humanity including genocide, assault, murder, plunder and other crimes against humanity.

In addition to a ghostly portrait of the war criminal, the story is also an interesting portrait of the war journalist and their strange mercenary tactics towards potential targets. Sacco describes his partner’s frustration as they run up against wall after wall in chasing Karadzic:

Kasey is switching gears…You don’t know Kasey like I know Kasey… His brain’s half cash register and right now it’s showing ‘NO SALE’… He’s the King of Strings, he gets paid by the piece… and so far this pale trip has been a monetary balls up…

In the end, the most remarkable thing about this monster is Sacco’s startling realization that Karadzic is really just this guy and that the artist can’t even summon the loathing for him that he would like to feel.

The second story, "Soba," has a fascinating subject. Soba is a charismatic but burnt-out wanna-be rock star who, at 27, is drowning his horror-filled memories of the war in the bars of Sarajevo. Despite his nightmares of shelling and battles in the hills of Bosnia, Soba has become a folk hero to his fellow denizens of the city. He is a guy that is so compelling that the hairy, sweating artist is equally interesting whether he is drawn dancing in the nightclubs or smoking, trembling and recounting the incredible tension of crawling through muck in the dark to disarm land mines. It’s incredible that Sacco has gotten him to reveal his own dark secrets like he has.

It’s really fucking dangerous. Sometimes you must get so close to their positions. Every time I feel like I’m doing it for the first time. We are working at night… We have only a stick to find their mines. When we find them, we take out the explosive and replace them… They have mines that explode a mine below when you pull them out. You have to check everything…

Sometimes I feel like I like that job. These days I feel that there’s something missing -- like I’ll go crazy if I don’t have that level of intensity… I’m nonstop in the atmosphere of that job, even now. You can’t relax because you must go back to it. I must keep that feeling or I might make mistake. I can’t relax anyway. When you relax, you start thinking and then you’re thinking, "What am I doing? This is crazy."

This is what journalism should be. Sacco has gone beyond the pale of giving a report on a place to tell a story that is completely, brutally and wholly true. He’s brought round the painful insight that a genocidal maniac can be a quietly dignified politician and a simple man can bring hope to his comrades in a time of terrible struggle. Sacco takes work to read but the artist’s combination of black humor and earthly drawings make for a truly astute combination.

War’s End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995-96 by Joe Sacco
Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN: 1896597920
80 Pages