In “Soba!,” the first of the two profiles in War’s End (both originally published in the late ’90s), Joe Sacco’s purview includes the title character’s porn aspirations—a film in which he and his friend would receive blowjobs while discussing Hegel—and the name of his rock band: Z.O.C.H., which stands for Golden-Gilded Dicks. Yet Sacco, the innovator of contemporary comics journalism, effortlessly moves from humor to horror on his scrupulously drawn pages. In bar and battle scenes alike, painstaking detail is skillfully offset by eclectic panelization and floating, fragmented text (inspired by Celine’s elliptical prose style).
Reporting from “the land[s] of the shattered,” Sacco always offers readers a complex and intimate portrayal of everyday experience. Here he calls attention to the mixture of the prosaic and the violent in Soba’s life. The first terrifying pages of “Soba!,” set against a black background, chronicle a day on the front lines in which the 27-year-old Sarajevan Muslim replaces the peeled-back scalp of a fellow soldier whose brain is showing, as Serb shelling sends bodies flying through the air.
“Christmas With Karadzic” concerns the on-the-run nationalist Bosnian Serb leader responsible for such atrocities as the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Amazingly, Sacco and his journalist friends successfully track Karadzic down at an Orthodox Christmas service in 1996. Standing close to the war criminal, Sacco tries unsuccessfully to feel revulsion for “a man I have despised with all my heart for years.” Less dark and cluttered than “Soba!,” the story suggests the banality of evil while crucially eschewing a moral. Sacco, appropriately for one so riveted to intricate truth, can only note that chasing Karadzic made for his best Christmas in years.