#94 - Safe Area Gorazde

Read this if you like: comics based on true stories, graphic novel journalism, Maus.


Relatively recently, comic books have shown themselves to be capable of dealing with complex, serious and often quite tragic subject matter. Things like the holocaust, depression and cancer have been subject to illustrations put to paper, and with powerful results. The most serious entry so far in our top 100 list is Safe Area Gorazde.

Set in Gorazde, a Bosniak enclave surrounded by hostile serb-domintaed territory, Safe Area Gorazde concerns itself with struggles of the residents trapped in what is supposed to by a safe zone, but is often fraught with misery and danger. This is not your standard comic fare, and the sincerity the subject matter is dealt with, as well as its unflinching approach, is part of what makes Safe Area Gorazde one of the best illustrated works of fiction. This book never misrepresents or exaggerates.

As well as being an important work in the graphic novel list, Safe Area Gorazde can also be best classed as a historical document in itself. The writer, Joe Sacco, collected oral histories and mixed them with his own experience of Bosnia, earned through a 1994-1995 stint in the country. Sacco, who first came to international fame and was recognised as a quality journalist with his book Palestine, has won several awards over his career, and is a talented and experienced journalist. This shines through in Safe Area Gorazde.

Devastation, war, guilt, the UN, Bill Clinton, the Balkan War, conflict, lies. These are the themes of Safe Area Gorazde, and things you will become very familiar with if you choose to buy this book.

So important is this work and that of Maus, another of the best comic books and one that will appear later in the top 100 graphic novels list, that a new term has been coined for the combination of illustration and journalism – graphic journalism. These are comics for people who want to learn something as they read, but don’t necessary want to get knee deep in a history text book. With the critical praise heaped on Safe Area Gorazde and Maus, I can see many more comic books going in this direction. I mean, what’s not to like? You get compelling stories, emotional illustrations, and to cap it off, you even learn something. I think learning is always best when you actually enjoy doing it.

If you want a graphic novel that transcends the medium and becomes an experience in itself, read Safe Area Gorazde. It is one of the best works of illustrated journalism to date, and earns its place in our top 100 list. This is the kind of book that will make you think a little deeper about war and its effects on the world, and by thinking a little deeper it might even make you think differently about your own life

Buy Safe Area Gorazde on Amazon: US Readers     UK Readers