Two stories of unusual mirth from Europe’s heart of darkness.
Sacco, who spent a lot of 1995 and 1996 in Bosnia as the war was winding down, turned his experiences into the gripping graphic novel Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia: 1992–1995 (2002). This slimmer work takes a pair of stories from the same period that didn’t fit into Gorazde’s narrative arc; far from seeming like leftovers, they create a perfectly matched diptych, though the images are not always the prettiest. In the first, “Christmas with Karadzic,” Sacco and a pair of journalist buddies go careening through the slush of a Bosnian winter to the town of Pale, where they have heard that Bosnian Serb president and black-hearted war criminal Karadzic is going to celebrate Christmas mass. It seems a perfect opportunity: Sacco can look into the face of evil, and his friend Kasey (a frenetic freelancer, “The King of Strings”) can get another story and another paycheck. But the actual event is a bit of letdown. Karadzic seems like just another politician, and they have to drive all over to find good audio of locals firing AK-47s into the air in celebration. This tale’s jauntiness is perfectly complemented by the mournful madness of “Soba!” Paying tribute to the eponymous Bosnian soldier/painter who became a media darling with his blend of haunted vet’s dolorousness and punk rock aggression, Sacco is as usual the fellow quietly listening in the midst of the maelstrom. He hangs in clubs until dawn with Sarajevans angrily celebrating the end of the conflict but not sure what they’re to do in the shattered aftermath. This is not a book about war, but rather about how people live with themselves in what passes for the peace that follows.
Worthy of a place on the shelf next to Safe Area Gorazde, The Fixer and Palestine. In just a few years, Sacco has created a body of work that includes some of the most important and relevant graphic novels of our time.