Fax From Sarajevo
by Joe Kubert
1997 Eisner Winner for Best New Graphic Album
Fair warning on this review: it's going to be gushing. I can sum it up right now as any comic fan needs to read Fax From Sarajevo and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone other than those completely prejudiced against the medium. It ranks among the best that I've ever read.
Joe Kubert cut his teeth on war comics. He is inarguably the master of that comic genre with most of war comics set in World War II. In the seventies he mostly retired from comic books to start a school for training comic artists. So when he emerged from his retirement with Fax From Sarajevo it was a big deal. It took his already impressive skills, applied them to a slightly different situation, and the result was the masterpiece of his sixty-five year long career.
It's the Bosnian War at heart of Fax From Sarajevo where a cartoonist who worked with Kubert finds himself and his family trapped in a suburb as the Bosnians siege the city. His only consistent lifeline for getting information out to his friends is a fax machine. As the siege continues for months his priorities shift from attempting to continue life as usual to survival to escape.
The book is populated with the faxes that provide the title. These faxes often provide a direct account of the events that Kubert just dramatized on the previous pages. Instead of being repetitive they bring home the fact that this is a true story and often bring a bit more context to events both in terms of emotion and plot.
The attack on Sarajevo in the Bosnian War wasn't an attempt to occupy a city, it was an attempt to exterminate its inhabitants. That means that one of the most effective things about this book is the way Kubert handles the violence. It's quickly made clear that gunmen, mortars, and bomb throwing soldiers are lurking everywhere. Calm scenes are punctuated with explosions and the tension never lets up. It just can't when things can always get worse.
Kubert may be accustomed to drawing GI's in trenches but the same visual techniques make Fax From Sarajevo terrific. The grim faced characters pushing on through a hail of bullets gets a whole new dimension when it's a family instead of soldiers. Kubert also paces his story visually so that there will be many moments where you will flip a page and recoil in shock.
The worst thing I can say about Fax From Sarajevo is that some of Kubert's dialog is rough. And it's not even rough enough that I can call it a bad thing; it's just that some of it tends to be a bit exposition heavy.
So Fax From Sarajevo is a book that I cannot recommend highly enough. Kubert channeled his personal attachment to the material into a spectacular work. It sheds light onto a conflict that is often overlooked by those not directly involved and does so in a way that will take your breath away and leave your fingernails chewed to nubs.