by DAVID AXE
In World War II, we had Bill Mauldin, a U.S. Army sergeant who depicted the travails of frontline troops in a comic strip for the military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper. In the 1990s, writer-artist Joe Sacco continued Mauldin’s tradition with a series of graphic novels about the wars in Palestine and the Balkans. In 2005 and 2006, Sacco turned his attention to the Iraq war.
By then, a legion of comics creators had joined in — including, well, me. Comics, once dominated by superheroes in tights, had grown up just a little. Today, the Afghanistan conflict is the major focus.
This year has seen an explosion of war comics. My new graphic novel War is Boring, published last week by New American Library, recounts my experiences with the Dutch army in Uruzgan province in 2007. In March, I dragged acclaimed comics artist Greg Scott to Kunar province for an embed with the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade. Greg’s art, seen above, forms the basis of a new graphic novel that’s just now taking shape.
Meanwhile, Ted Rall, an incendiary contrarian cartoonist, is crossing Afghanistan from north to south on his third trip to the country since 2001. This time, he’s aiming to “see what has changed and how life is going for Afghans, especially those in the remote provinces in the southwest where Western reporters never venture.” Every day, he sketches out and colors a few rough panels, fires up his satellite modem and uploads the cartoon to his Website.
In coming days, Matt Bors, the artist on War is Boring, will join Ted on his dangerous trek. “I will be posting sketches, comics and such to my Website as well as lining up some longer work when I get back,” Bors told an interviewer.
The confluence of war and comics is not new — and not unique to American journalists and commercial artists. Sequential art has long had close ties to many of the world’s worst places, where illiteracy poses a challenge to journalists, aid groups, armies and anyone else with a message. In Afghanistan last March, Greg and I accompanied a newly-formed team of Afghan commandos on a hearts-and-minds mission near Kabul. To win over skeptical villagers, the commandos handed out crude comic books depicting the commandos kicking down doors, arresting Taliban fighters and making nice to civilians.
As far as propaganda goes, it was pretty cool.