by Aleksandar Zograf with a superbly scathing contribution from Monty Python's Terry Jones for the John O'Farrell and Mark Thomas fans.
Publisher: Top Shelf
One for the geopolitically minded - the Joe Sacco readers, if you like, for this artist endured one hell of a real civil war zone. This isn't exactly reportage - although you will learn a lot - but, as Zograf himself muses, "It is some kind of fantastic realism, in a good Russian tradition... I think that the whole situation could be properly described by pointing at some peripheral details... In our life, we are always watching just fragments... We have to use our imagination, if we want to grasp the whole picture..." So the art is far more expressionistic than Sacco's. Visually, I found it difficult to begin with, but minutes in I was gripped, because the details are extraordinary, as the ex-Yugoslavian states tear each other apart, the Serbs, the Croats and the Muslims stop living in a neighbourly way, we impose sanctions that cripple the people, and then NATO bombs the fuck out of Kosovo to stop Serbian leader Milosevic driving the Albanians out of Kosovo, and Serbia to turn the Serbs against their leader. Terry Jones delivers a fine line in sarcasm here. Effectively we bombed the Albanians and saved Milosevic's bacon, because if someone started bombing us, even Tony Blair's popularity would go back up through the roof.
Anyway, six pages of notes to condense here: hyperinflation shot up to 313 million %; money gave way to the old bartering system; the food queues looked like Russia's during my childhood; and the police, the politicians, the soldiers, and the mafia did very well for themselves indeed, cheers. There are two very telling panels in which a visitor to a prison observes that his enemy looks just like him, whilst in another each of the ex-Yugoslavian republics are designing their own distinctive army uniforms ("This is much better than before... now we have our own symbols and uniforms and things..."). Yeah, tribalism - that always works. It's a story that's been played and replayed all over the globe for thousands of years, and the basic lesson is this: don't do it! That genie does not go quietly or easily back into that bottle. Territorial war lasts for years and years, as does the resulting terrorism (see Ireland, Iraq, Israel/Palestine etc. etc. etc.). I remember a young lad some years ago, with ridiculously misguided notions about independence for Cornwall. I know. In fact, handily Aleksandar provides a two-page distillation of the whole sorry mess entitled, "What It Would Be Like If A Civil War Broke Out In Your Own Country."
Other things I learned: interestingly, the Serbian regime didn't censor the independent radio stations, providing a valve for the intellectual venting of anger that might otherwise have turned to violent revolution; twice Zograf visits Italy, absorbs the spirit there, only to return to home and become disorientated after dreaming he was Italian.
Includes LIFE UNDER SANCTIONS, his emails to US comicbook creators, the weekly strips from 1999 to 2001, and an epilogue which finishes in celebratory style, "It's good to be alive!" Also, a surprise, I'd have thought.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!