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Safe Area Gorazde Hardcover

Posted: Wednesday, August 16
By: Alan David Doane

Written and drawn by Joe Sacco
Introduction by Christopher Hitchens
Published by Fantagraphics Books

We're awfully damn comfortable where I live.

Every morning, I get up before the alarm goes off at 3:00, I take a shower, get dressed, check my e-mail, and drive an hour to reach the radio station I work at.

I have to be quiet as I get ready for work, because my wife and two young children are still sleeping; their day starts a little later. My wife will get up at 5:00, shower and prepare the kids for their day. My daughter will go to school, my son to the babysitter. At the end of the day, we all reunite and eat dinner together and sometimes, if time allows, we go out to the toy store, the library, the comics shop...

We're awfully damn comfortable. We've got it good. Better than we realize. Better than some people will ever have it again.

Cartoon journalist Joe Sacco's major new work, Safe Area Gorazde, is out now from Fantagraphics Books. It is a work that has made me think of my family, my life, and especially my children. Made me think of what it might be like, instead of reuniting with my wife and kids at the end of each day, to wonder for yet another day if they are alive somewhere, or if my son or daughter is lying face down in a river, or dead in the middle of a bombed out road with their guts hanging out.

In Safe Area Gorazde, Sacco documents the war in Eastern Bosnia in the early and mid 1990s. Entering the area as a journalist, he spent time with many of the people whose lives were destroyed by the war, and he relates many, many of their stories in gruesome detail.

It's gruesome, of course, because that's what war is. Especially a war so grounded in hatred and senselessness as this one. Perhaps, upon reflection, all war is like that...I hope I never find out. I hope my kids never find out. The Bosnian conflict Sacco relates begins because of near-ancient resentments, and is nurtured by broken promises and the utter depravity of the worst in human nature given free rein.

Sacco is no stranger to this sort of journalism. He previously documented the troubles in the Middle East in Palestine, and has had many short pieces appear in magazines such as Details, many of which have been printed in the Fantagraphics volume War Junkie. Sacco inserts himself into this story by documenting his meetings and interviews with the victims of the Bosnian war, and in revealing his thoughts and reactions to the people he allows the readers a frame of reference that unfolds slowly, but ultimately is extraordinary in its power.

Sacco introduces us to many, many different types of people, all affected by war. Angry victims, hopeful victims, the doctors and nurses that tried against all hope to patch together people likely doomed to die anyway.

It is a complicated war that Sacco tries to explain, and over here, in our comfort, even the most careful reader may lose track of the combatants and their complex (although ultimately, nearly absurd if not stupid) motivations. The details almost don't matter, though--because Sacco concentrates on their results and ramifications. Human misery. The destruction of hope.

The brutality is, over the course of 227 pages, literally numbing. And just as I began to become numb to it all, Sacco delivers a skillful punch that once again reminded me these were human lives, human beings, not at all different from me, or my wife, or my kids--this could happen here. Perhaps it's something of a wonder and a miracle that it hasn't happened here. Yet.

I don't want to dismiss the power of the many stories Sacco relates. Every one is important, and every one has the ring of truth to it. I don't think Sacco has done much to fictionalize his account of these events. But it's a comic book, so the suspension of disbelief almost works in reverse. It's a struggle to relate the ink on paper to actual suffering, but Sacco carries across the stories of the people he met with truth and depth. It's obvious he was touched by these people.

But it's also obvious that he was numbed by all the horror. How could you not be? He came to the war from America, and had the freedom to leave any time he chose to. He actually managed to have some laughs with these folks, to drink and sing and watch movies on the VCR when they had electricity...but all the horror, all the pain--I think he was numb to it after a while.

Because late in the story, an angry man confronts Sacco, a man only referred to as "F." "F," in broken English, verbally assaults Sacco's motivations and intentions, and forces the journalist to confront himself in a way I'd imagine most journalists would prefer not to. Suddenly Sacco "wanted to put a hundred thousand miles between (himself) and Bosnia." But he couldn't. He was right there, but why? He was in a war zone, but was he victimized by the war? Was he not, after all, profiting from its very existence? The implications are not lost on Sacco, who left the confrontation with "F." to find a place to throw up.

Sacco is not to be excoriated for his life's work, despite "F's" understandable rage. He has, after all, created an immensely readable journal of many of the war's victims, people whose individual stories might otherwise never have been told. Sacco achieves a real balance between telling the stories of the war's victims and telling of his own experiences documenting the war's impact.

The balance is maintained in the section "Silly Girls Part III." Sacco's final illustration in this section demonstrates with grace and eloquence his ultimate understanding of the gulf between himself, a privileged outsider, and the victims of the war, who aren't going anywhere. He is with them, they are together, but he is not truly among them. I'm left with the feeling that Sacco knows he can't do much to help, other than tell their stories, and he is uncomfortable with that reality.

I think making the reader uncomfortable is an admirable goal of this work. Making someone take the time out of their day to consider what living a life during wartime is like. Whether it will prevent war in the future is questionable, but perhaps some of the people reading it will be moved to act in the future. Perhaps someone reading this story will someday be in a position to make a decision that could prevent this kind of senseless, relentless brutality.

Even if that best-case scenario doesn't come to pass, though, Sacco has achieved an admirable result. I know, after reading this, I will hug my kids a little tighter when we are reunited at the end of the day. I will, perhaps, be a little more grateful the next time I embrace my wife, and perhaps I will linger a little longer before letting her go.

Because we're awfully damn comfortable where I live, and after reading Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco, I'm a little more grateful for that.

Topsy Turvy TPB

Posted: Wednesday, August 16
By: Alan David Doane

Writer/Artist: Peter Kuper
Distributed by Top Shelf Productions

The plot: America the Ludicrous.

"Ridicule is the unfortunate destiny of the ridiculous." --James Howard Kunstler

This book could not come at a better time here in these United States. The Republicrat National Conventions are in full swing, with Part One having wrapped up a couple of weeks ago in Philadelphia, and Part Two underway even as we speak in Los Angeles.

If you haven't heard of the Republicrat Party, you are not really qualified to discuss American politics, as it is far and away the only force currently able to shove through its egregious policies and legislation, all through the clever illusion that it is actually two seperate and distinct parties, which the Republicrats call "Republican" and "Democratic." The Party has one goal, and to date it has succeeded admirably, while paradoxically having nothing admirable about it: Stay in power.

Kuper skewers the significant players in the Republicrat Party, including current Republicrat Presidential Candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush. The two face off in the Republicrat Primary in November, and whoever gets the most votes then is rubber-stamped in the real election, by the Electoral College.

Sickening, isn't it?

Kuper has some fun with the evil, backward yet moneyed attorneys and oil barons trying to convince the American people they "Feel your pain." I liked the comparison of "Dubya" to 007 ("Bush, George W. Bush."), and the constant jabs at Al Gore's inability to get out of the shadow of Bill Clinton (sometimes literally!) are dead-on.

As with any collection of political cartoons, a few of the pieces that were bleeding-edge topical a few months ago are now hopelessly dated (Who remembered Donald Trump was running for President in 1999?), but it's always good to be reminded that someday cunning stunts like Al Gore and Dubya may be relegated to the irrelevant compost pit of the Republicrats in the same manner as Bill Bradley, "Rudy" Giuliani and John McCain.

The Myth of 8-Opus #1

Posted: Tuesday, August 15
By: Alan David Doane

Writer/artist: Thomas Scioli
Published by Thomas Scioli Comics

The plot: 8-Opus searches for a fellow warrior on a long-dead planet.

Marvel and DC are no longer publishing the best comics around. There may have been a time when that was true, but that time has passed.

Certainly, the Authority, the Avengers, and a few other mainstream titles remain at the top of my reading stack, but the greatest, purest joys I find in works of singular vision like Black Hole and Eightball from Fantagraphics, or the recent Fortune and Glory published by Oni Press.

Thanks to the Xeric program, which awards cash to worthy comics projects that otherwise would never see wide distribution, I now can add The Myth of 8-Opus to that list.

Writer/artist Thomas Scioli has created the single most intriguing title I have seen this year. It is simply amazing.

From the cover art seen here, you can see that the book is, in part, a tribute to the works of Jack Kirby. But it is so much more than that.

Scioli has created a story that includes many landmarks that will seem familiar to Kirby Fans. In fact, the first issue seems very much like a straightforward homage to New Gods #1.

8-Opus arrives at the corpse of a long-dead planet-god. His friend Daedalus is somewhere on the planet, and 8-Opus wants his help with an important task.

8-Opus wears the Mystic-8, a mask that seems a cross between the Mother Boxes of the New Gods and Orion's mask that altered his appearance to hide his hideous countenance. Mystic-8 allows 8-Opus to see the true nature of the god-world he and his compatriot are on, and it leads to conflict.

After reading of this comic in the Jack Kirby Collector, I sought it out, and writer/artist/publisher Scioli was kind enough to provide previews of the second and third issues in the series.

Rest assured, he is not simply paying tribute to Kirby, or worse, ripping him off. The saga Scioli has created has a very real point to it, and it's obvious he knows where he is going. While the artwork takes some getting used to (Scioli's Kirby imitation may be the best I've seen in terms of its overall impact, but it's still an imitation), the story is one that every single comic book reader in America should read.

I want very badly to explain in explicit detail why, but that would spoil future issues. So, if you've ever thought I was right about a title, please give The Myth of 8-Opus a shot. Issue #1 was listed in the May Previews, and hit stores two months later in July. Issue 2 was listed in July and will be out in stores in September. Issue 3 will be in the September Previews and will come out in stores in November. Or, you can order by contacting the publisher at [email protected]. At $2.00 an issue, this is the best comics value available today.

Superstar Ashcan

Posted: Friday, August 11, 2000
By: Alan David Doane

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Artists: Stuart Immonen (p), Wade Von Grawbadger (i)

Published by Juke Box Productions

The plot: Superstar performs for an adoring public and is angered by his father's attempts to market him even further.

This 8-page ashcan was specifically created so Busiek and Immonen could hang on to their trademark until they have completed work on an "official" one-shot, set to be published sometime next year by <a href=http://www.apenation.com>Gorilla Comics</a>.

It reads like a genuine ashcan--there's not much story here, really. But what there is is extremely intriguing. Busiek goes into welcome detail about the development of the character in a back up feature nearly as long as the story itself.

Immonen and Van Grawbadger do a nice job illustrating the tale, especially with the joyous scenes of Superstar in flight. The costume the creative team came up with for Superstar is fairly unique in comics, and works well for the character.

Superstar is a unique superhero concept: He is powered by energy donations from the public, and the more popular he is, the more powerful he becomes. Busiek even played with a variation of this idea in Astro City, with a cartoon lion that came to life because people believed in him.

You could, I suppose, look at it as a kind of metaphor for any creative work; the creators live and die by their popularity, just like Superstar. But I don't think there's that much at work here, really. Busiek just had a really good, really different idea for a superhero, and I am looking forward to seeing the official debut next year.

Thunderbolts #43

Posted: Friday, August 11, 2000
By: Alan David Doane

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artists: Mark Bagley (p), Greg Adams (i), Joe Rosas (c)
Published by Marvel Comics

The plot: The Black Widow visits the T-Bolts mountain HQ and they team up to storm Baron Zemo's castle.

It is a tribute to the skills of editor Tom Brevoort that this book survived the departure of co-creator Kurt Busiek as well as it did. In an interview a few months ago, Busiek told me he believes superhero stories are essentially about "what happens next," and this series has certainly been propelled by that philosophy.

I was sad to see Hawkeye bolt the Avengers for the T-Bolts so many months ago, but the fact is, he fits in better leading this group of reformed (or at least reforming) villains than he ever did towing the line for someone else, even folks he respects like Iron Man and Captain America.

There's some nice Marvel history at work here, as the Widow and Hawkeye go a looong way back, and their familiarity and trust is a key part of this tale. The Widow is depicted as the bright, suspicious woman she'd have to be to have been a successful spy; while the T-Bolts have fallen for Techno's ruse for months now, Natasha is onto him almost immediately.

Bagley is a good artist and handles action and team sequences well, but I finally figured out what bothers me about his style with this issue. No matter what angle he depicts faces at, he almost always draws the nostrils as being visible. Check page 5, panel 2, or page 15, panel 4 to see how disturbing this effect is once you are conscious of it.

Other than that, this is a solid, suspense filled issue smack dab in the middle of the T-Bolts/Avengers summer crossover event. As always, the readers is left wanting to know "what happens next," and you can't really ask more than that from this always-dependable title.

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