I haven’t always been a fan of graphic novels. Unusually, and many people thought obtusely, I found them hard to read. I would either read the text or look at the pictures, and one without the other is either nonsensical or simply very boring. However, I’ve been giving them a go recently, and realised that for a travelogue, they are perfect. Anyone who has traveled has come back to people asking for stories, only to find that so many things that really exemplify the trip in your mind do not make good stories. They are small stories, often hinging on a strange sight, or a person’s reaction to something. It’s little things that make you feel really out of place. A graphic travelogue means you can tell all your tiny stories, in a few panels each, and that strange feeling is translated into one simple picture.
Some people may claim this is stretching the term travel writing, but just because an extreme political or military situation is happening whilst you are there does not stop it being travel in my opinion. Joe Sacco visits with the people of Goražde, Bosnia, several times from 1995 – 1996 and Safe Area Goražde is the result. Goražde was a designated UN safe haven, along with 5 other towns, including the now infamous Srebrenica. In practice this meant it was an enclave of Bosnian muslims, cut-off from everywhere else by Bosnian-Serbian troops. Isolated for 3 years, with pratically no supplies in or people out, Goražde was a town only half protected and almost completely forgotten.
In his book, Joe Sacco draws up the conversations he has had on his visits, mixing current interview images with interviewee-eye views of the stories they are remembering. The people come across as resilient, as they had to be, and as a result the book is not without humour. It is overall a very dark and upsetting read however, and one which will leave you upset and frustrated at the lack of political will of the international community.
Joe Sacco is a prolific writer and illustrator, and his other travel books include Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza.