First published in 1996, Joe Kubert’s Fax From Sarajevo is the real-life story of his Bosnian friend and colleague Ervin Rustemagic, who was trapped in and around Sarajevo in 1992-93 during the siege of the city.
In the years before the internet, Rustemagic often communicated with his friends and colleagues by fax. During the war, when he found a working machine, it gave him the opportunity to tell his and his family’s story first-hand. Fax From Sarajevo reproduces many of those correspondences, alongside Kubert’s own depictions of the town (many inspired by photos taken by photojournalist Karim Zaimovic), to piece together the heart-breaking story.
The fall of Yugoslavia in 1992 led to conflicts in many areas. As Sarajevo became the capital city of the newly formed Bosnia and Herzegovina, many Serbs were angry with the independence of Bosnia, and blockaded the capital with thousands of civilians trapped inside.
Rustemagic was one of these civilians, a comics publisher who slowly resigns himself to accepting the new way of life and focusses his energy on how to get his family out. While little seems to be happening to help the civilians on an international level, Rustemagic discovers the way people are dealing with the situation in the town itself: such as the supermarket that’s turned into a makeshift hospital, and the homemade armoured car that takes on the snipers between his home in the suburb of Dobrinja and the city centre itself. In one desperate chapter the family even tries to escape across a wide-open airport runway in the middle of night, only to find itself forced to turn back at gunpoint.
Author and artist Joe Kubert determined to put the memoir together almost as soon as he realised the full extent of what the Rustemagic family were having to go through. Having worked on DC’s superhero and war comics since the 1940s, then setting up a School for Cartoon and Graphic Art in the 1970s, Kubert knew a thing or two about emotional storytelling. His art here is at the top of its game, combining the tragedy of a city being destroyed with the people still living their lives.
As the 30th anniversary since the start of the conflict approaches, Dark Horse has issued a new edition, which now includes further background and an Afterword by Rustemagic himself, adding a new epilogue to the end of the story. Never an easy read, Fax From Sarajevo remains one of the best true-life comics ever published.