Monday, April 04, 2005

War Comics are No Joke

Despite more than 1500 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, most of us do not know any of them. 1500 out of 295.8 million is long odds. (Though my generation provided the meat of the batting order in Vietnam, I can name only one victim, Mike Gallegos, an extremely remote acquaintance from my high school.) Once again in Iraq, we are insulated from those who serve — by age, by class, by residence and political preference. We may proclaim our empathy, but are likely as ignorant of the kids enlisting in the military today as the right-wingers are ignorant of the real lives of gays and lesbians.

Over the weekend, I was reminded how even the most flattering elegies for the fallen cannot possibly capture the spirit of a living person when I stumbled across C-Span's American Perspectives: Conversations with Soldiers Wounded in Iraq. The three-hour piece features extended interviews with four wounded soldiers getting rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Often, plodding C-Span sends me screaming in search of a soundbite, but these four kept me up well past my bedtime, patiently explaining their rehab, what their units did, how military benefits work, why they hold no bitterness.

Were these amputees hand-picked for their optimism? Certainly. Even C-Span won't televise three hours of sullen psychosis. Was it propaganda for the military? Possibly, but detailing the injuries of a double-amputee woman helicopter pilot is hardly a recruiting pitch for the Army National Guard. Perhaps the program sampled Walter Reed's more photogenic, articulate and patriotic patients, but who else would we — and the soliders still deployed — want to represent America? I couldn't help but be proud.

A week ago, I wrote about the military's program to recruit high schoolers, and based on today's Doonesbury it looks like Gary Trudeau is about to take it on.

Now, Majikthise reports that Unlce Sam wants a few good graphic novelists to produce a middle-east-themed comic.

Visit a good comix store, and you'll find a number of artists taking a swing at war. Here are a few who will not apply for the job, but their works are recommended:

Joe Sacco
Palestine, a Palestinian view of the Israeli occupation.
Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia, 1992-1995
The Fixer. Sacco returns to Bosnia 10 years later to find the man who helped him find his stories.
Notes from a Deafeatist, early work which includes "When Good Bombs Happen to Bad People," a history of aerial bombing targeting civilians; "More Women, More Children, More Quickly," about his mother's experiences during World War II in Malta; and "How I Loved the War," Sacco's reflections on being a spectator and commentator on the Gulf War.

Jim Ottaviani
Fallout. Ottaviani and other artists tell the story of "J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb."

Jason Lutes
Berlin: City of Stones, Book One. My only complaint about this work is that it's still being written, serialized in the comic Berlin, and only three episodes have been completed since Book One.

Pascal Croci
Auschwitz. Is it cheating to include holocaust graphic novels? Who cares. Art Spiegelman's Maus belongs here, too, of course.

Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis. There's a P1 and P2, about a girl's coming of age in Iran as the mullahs come to power. This and Sacco's books will probably give you a more memorable feel for what went on in these regions than most "serious: works.

World War 3 Illustrated
I wrote about issue #17 back in February, and there have been twice that many issues published. This zine can be hard to find, although our local Big Brain Comics has a supply. Big Brain and Minnesota Center for Book Arts will host the Minneapolis edition of the international 24 Hour Comics Day in which comic artists give themselves one day to produce a comic.

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