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iFanboy Responds!: On V in Other Places

Michael C and I read comic books. We adore graphic novels, just plain loving the medium. That’s why, a few years ago, I (Eric C, On V’s resident art critic) went out in search of graphic novels about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find any.

Actually, that’s not true. I found two. The first, Pride of Baghdad, is amazing. (Check out Matty P’s review here.) As Matty P wrote, “I will not spoil the summation at the novel's conclusion, but the words written are haunting and true. As a graphic novel and as a individual narrative, Pride of Baghdad is an excellent read.” I also found another graphic novel, Refresh, Refresh about the experience of a young boy whose father is at war. Though I read the graphic novel, I never reviewed it.

Along with two recent pieces of war fiction, (Fobbit and Fire and Forget, reviews coming soon) I want to start reading and reviewing war graphic novels. Not knowing what to read after I review Refresh, Refresh, I emailed the hosts of my favorite comics podcast, iFanboy, to get their suggestions. Awesomely, they responded within the week.

I had two questions. First, I asked about graphic novels or comics about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Josh Flanagan summed up the problem right away, “I had a hard time thinking of any.” After they put their minds to it, they came up with...

- The Activity (“Dips a toe in it.”) about the Intelligence Support Activity, though clearly not based on real life.

- Shooters by Eric Trautmann, about a private contractor.

- 303, written by Garth Ennis, which starts in Afghanistan but ends with the Russian main character assassinating the American President. (If you’re confused, so am I.)

- The comments section for the podcast recommended Graveyard of Empires, about a group of soldiers in Afghanistan who have to fight zombies.

Though I hate the title of the last book, it sounds like the best of the four because it depicts regular soldiers. Unfortunately, none of these books--especially compared to Pride of Baghdad--seem to take the wars seriously, or as anything more than a back drop. I’m actually surprised at the lack of comic books about the modern wars, mainly because they seem easy to produce.

Next, I asked the iFanboys about graphic novels from the past that weren’t about World War II. (Why no WW II? Because I think that that war is too over-covered, too simplistic.) Their suggestions included:

- Three book on Vietnam, The ‘Nam by Doug Murray, Last Days of Vietnam by Will Eisner and Dong Xoai, by Joe Kubert. Strange how it seems like writers and artists in the past--when superhero comics were at their most innocent and unrealistic--seemed unafraid to write about Vietnam honestly and realistically, but in today’s modern, deconstructionist, violent comic books world, writers won’t touch the modern wars.

- 300 by Frank Miller, the infamous graphic novel about the battle of Thermopylae. The iFanboys started laughing after they suggested this one, and I hope they were joking, because I hate that book. Mainly because it is so inaccurate.

- They also recommend the graphic novels of Joe Sacco, a reporter/graphic novelist who has covered Serbia and Palestine. I’ve got to check his stuff out.

- Garth Ennis’ Battlefield Stories is a collection of war stories in general, mostly about World War II. I also know that they love Garth Ennis’ run on Fury Max, about Nick Fury and the Cold War. This may be blasphemy to some comics readers, but I’m not a huge Garth Ennis fan. He goes to the extreme (read: rape and pedophilia) way too often for my taste.

- Finally, they recommend Crecy by Warren Ellis, about the Battle of Crecy during the 100 Years War, which sounds fascinating because we never see stuff like that. Graphic novels can take place anywhere, at any time, and depict whatever they like; I wish more writers and artists took advantage of this freedom.

Finally, Conor Kilpatrick responded to why most graphic novels are about World war II “...it’s the [war] where you can kind of easily go good guy/bad guy and you’re done.”

Unfortunately, I agree with this simplistic reading of World War II and the media it inspires.

three comments

If you expand your list to Japanese, Chinese, Israeli, Russian, and other foreign artistic books you will find more examples, but unfortunately most are one hit serials as it doesn’t seem to bring in much profit the world over to cover modern war settings in a serious manner. If I scroll across any titles in the near future I’ll try to post them up here.

Delurking again for something I can comment about with some authority – for once!
Though it will be a rather petty comment, in that I totally agree with you on Garth Ennis.
Hate his work, adolescent, nihilist, full of issues (bullies, religion, authority figures, and his boring Mary-Sue types main characters), very “provocative”, yet ultimately very PC in the worst sense of the notion. He’s a formulatic, unsurprizing writer, who is basically the comics equivalent of a radio “edgy” shock jockey. That he’s been so successful tells a lot about the past couple decades in the medium, in that regard I’d put him alongside Bendis or Millar, or IMHO Chaykin at his worst (anything but the first run of American Flagg). His sole redeeming quality is that he IS good with black, gross humor.

As for “Baghdad Pride”, it’s quite decent, Vertigo has had some very nice work over the years, and now the sub-imprint is going to publish only creator-owned works, it may move maybe more toward the GN format, rather than the ongoing one, I don’t know.

Re war comics, I have no ideas; I do have pretty complete runs of olden days (digital format) stuff, ranging from the very good (most of what DC did in the 70’s) to the campy (“Sgt Fury and his Howling commandos”, oh, my), and you’re certainly right in noting that in an era of “black and white” morality, comics aimed at kids and (very) young adults managed to cover some ground, even in a war as absurdly mythified and “essentialized” as WWII seen from the US eyes.

AFAIK, the recent ME misadventures have only served as distant background or story props, with no “mainstream” serie tackling it, that I’m aware of anyway. FWIW, the “new” Flash Thompson, of Spider-Man supporting cast fame, now is a double amputee from his time in Iraq (and a “black ops” superhero wearing an alien symbiote, too, this being after all mere comics books).

Foreign material might be more relevant, perhaps? After all, war comics have long been a staple of the genre, cf. the rich post-WWII English story of such titles as “Combat!” or “Commandoes!”, so maybe there is something for your taste.

All the best,

“Wave and Smile” by Arne Jysch. Fantastic story and beautiful art. I spent 25 Euro on that book and didn’t regret it. It’s in German, though.