Friday, July 22, 2011

Comics for Causes: Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan

Philip Craig Russell went so far above and beyond for this book and the upcoming second volume that, when asked to do one page of artwork, he did six.

Jerry Bingham described working on the book as an honor and a labor of love.

Valerie Finnigan described working with members of the armed forces as a privilege and the responsibility of faithfully adapting their stories as a "sacred trust."

Michael Sutherland, an airman who started drawing cartoons while serving in Iraq, described working on the book as a way to help fulfill his dream and the promise he made to those with whom he served to get his cartoons published for all to enjoy. He contributed one of the book's biggest laugh-out-loud moments with a cartoon involving low-flying aircraft.

MSgt. C.J.Grisham, a soldier who'd served two tours in Iraq and may be by the time I post this on his way to Afghanistan, described this book as "the single greatest tribute idea" he'd heard of. He went on to contribute a couple of stories, one of which became one of my favorites in this first volume.

Gold Star families have described this book as "amazing" and "touching." Veterans have described the book with terms like "rocked" and "the best graphic novel I have read," and have offered support, stories for future volumes, and  help with spreading the word.

Reviewers from librarians to comic book retailers to culture critics have weighed in with positive feedback and recommendations. And is it purely coincidence that this story on comic book therapy for veterans broke shortly after Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan was released?

All this naturally begs the following question: can so many people be wrong about a book and/or the idea behind it? Of course they can, but this time it's clearly not the case.

As stated before, all proceeds from the sales of Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan go to the USO, Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher House, and Soldiers' Angels. Then the fact that around sixty creators volunteered, gave their best efforts, and worked together without clashes of politics or egos demonstrated the generosity, patience, and teamwork that distinguishes comic book professionals from people who happen to draw or write comics. Tom Orzechowski, it should be noted, lettered no less than thirty-six pages for these causes. That's already inspiring, and I haven't even mentioned the stories themselves yet.

"Ambush in Korengal Valley" features a reunion of Jerry Bingham and Tom Orzechowski. They had worked together well on Black Panther and I think did just as well here adapting Spc. Robert Soto's heartbreaking tribute to Spc. Rick DeWater, who had fallen in Afghanistan.

"The Spider," by Louis J. and Rick Parker provided the first chuckle in the book. Well, the first after the drawing by Victor Castro and Mark McKenna portraying Heroes Fallen founder Clayton Murwin as some hard-driving sergeant.

"Debriefing," by Sfc. Robert Masterman and Adam Masterman was a little difficult for me to read. On the surface, the story of an IED attack that goes very badly seems so coolly narrated, but the first two panels upon rereading say it all for me. He's in a setting where he has to keep his cool, and judging by the subtle facial expression as well as the general context, it's not exactly easy.

"How to Lose Your Soul" is one of the aforementioned accounts from C.J. Grisham, adapted by Tomm Gabbard, Joshua LaBello, and Johnny Lowe. I found the unflinching examination of conscience such as any good man must make when he fears he's done wrong crushing yet inspiring in its brutal honesty.

"Airburst," by Elliott Blake, Richard O'Hara, Tomm Gabbard, and Kell Nuttall, is a short but jam-packed  account by Air Force Sgt. Brian Duclos that illustrates how quickly and rudely the banality of everyday life can be interrupted, how quickly one has to shift gears in order to cope, and how, though they joke and laugh afterward, it's not quite as easy as they make it look.

"When Words Fail," based on accounts by aforementioned airman Michael Sutherland and scripted by Valerie Finnigan with art by Paul Shirey, inks by Jason Sylvester, and a little bit of lettering by Kell Nuttal, was, despite the absence of narration or dialogue, the most difficult read in the book. My first reaction to it was the impression that I was seeing a whole lot of stuff and unable to make sense of it. Even though it was simple inferring the mission, the plot and conflict, from the second of only two captions (both of which were on the first panel), the rest was very confusing, perhaps intentionally so. It certainly felt scarier seeing but not fully understanding what was going on.

On the other hand, "Yea, Though We Drive Through a Tier One Hot Spot," also scripted by Valerie Finnigan with pencils by Brian Shearer, inks by Peter Palmiotti, and Tom Orzechowski providing even more lettering, is a clear account of an Army convoy facing threats such as a road trip through wartime Balad Province, Iraq would offer. It also comes with some civilian-friendly explanations of army jargon, pointed observations, and a healthy dose of sardonic wit courtesy of SSgt. Kyle Hausmann-Stokes.

Last, but certainly not least of the short stories is another one of my favorites. "A Shared Sky" by Mike and Will Perkins sums up to me precisely why defending, cherishing, and sharing freedom is so important, not just for the US but for every country. With all that comes the freedom to aspire, excel, to dream big, fulfill noble hopes.

And at the very end was another reminder of the sacrifices some have made, a tribute to the late Spc. Cody Grater.

Overall, all that left me trying to swallow the lump in my throat while anticipating the upcoming second volume. It will likely leave you feeling the same.

Update! Volume two of Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan is shaping up to be even more ambitious than the first volume. At 150 pages in color, getting this volume to print will be more difficult, but Heroes Fallen Studios has offered an opportunity for more than just veterans and comic book creators to get involved.

We can all help out and... Kickstart this comic!

1 comment:

  1. Next couple of weekends will be busy for a number of us behind the book, as we'll be putting in appearances at Fandemonium and Chicago Comic Con! Maybe we'll see you there.