Sunday, October 29, 2006

Pride of Baghdad

Currently reading: "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller, "The Ethical Slut" by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt, and "The Odyssey" by Homer (yes. still.)
Next up: "Lost Girls" by Alan Moore and "Ulysses" by James Joyce

I'm a sucker for three things, it seems: Brian K. Vaughan, political graphic novels, and animals. I recently picked up a beautiful looking graphic novel I happened upon in a comic book store called "Pride of Baghdad" written by Brian K. Vaughan (writer of Ex Machina, Y: The Last Man, and The Escapists). Its cover has a beautiful, close-up drawing of a lion's face, and Vaughan's name graces the top. When I read the synopsis on the back - a "based on true events" telling of what the streets of Baghdad were like during the beginning of our war with Iraq from the point of view of a pride of lions that escaped the Baghdad Zoo - I thought, "Brian Vaughan? ANIMALS?! POLITICS?! This book has EVERYTHING!"

Overall, I was not disappointed. This pride of lions escaping a zoo proved an effective literary parallel to an Iraqi citizenry thrust into a new world without a dictator. Vaughn uses this conceit to great effect as we watch this lion family hunt for food and fight for survival in the midst of shelling, rubble, and ruin. Important questions of what freedom means and what price one should be willing to pay for it are addressed as the lions fight amongst themselves and interact with other species. Human beings are relegated to the background, as dead bodies the lions must decide to eat or not, or as American soldiers.

And here, I will say that Vaughan's storytelling would be nothing without Niko Henrichon's stunning artwork. I've said this before: being a writer myself, I tend to notice the writing in comics more than the art. However, sometimes I'll come across an artist who is so obviously an active part of the storytelling that I can't ignore it. From the multi-faceted emotions on the animals' faces throughout the story, to the gut-wrenching, bullet-riddled conclusion, Henrichon's art ends up telling most of the tale, and tells it beautifully.

The one problem I had with Pride of Baghdad is something that is difficult for anyone who has chosen to tell a story through animals. There were certain plot points in the story, or bits of dialogue, that sounded and felt too human for me. While I understand that they are being used to represent the Iraqis, a point is also made in the story (by an old turtle who has seen it all) about how human beings destroy everything. I wonder how the story would've been different had the animals been allowed to be animals. What would an American invasion had looked like from the point of view of total innocence - not only innocence, but creatures who are free of human emotions like anger, jealousy....and pride?
Still, Pride of Baghdad was a satisfying, emotional read, cemented Brian K. Vaughan as one of my favorite writers, and introduced me to a wonderful artistic talent in Niko Henrichson.
Pride of Baghdad - Good Times!


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