A series of journalistic vignettes from the war that threatens to last forever.
As America’s involvement in Afghanistan extends toward (and past?) two decades, the challenge of coming to terms with it grows tougher than ever. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, some wondered whether it would ever inspire great literature, as the two world wars had, or whether we were too close to it to see it clearly. With Afghanistan, it is even harder to find meaning or significance while the U.S. remains entrenched, despite promises from presidents and candidates for a deadline on such involvement. As a former war correspondent and author of a previous graphic novel about his experiences (War Is Boring, 2010), Axe admits to mixed feelings over the possibility of America’s troop removal. “In my selfishness, I feared losing my easy access—via the U.S. Military—to Afghanistan’s most dangerous districts,” he writes. “The war had defined my young adulthood. The closer it came to killing me, the deeper my connection with the conflict. For better or worse, the Afghanistan war had made me who I was and am. I treasured that.” Such profound ambivalence runs through these stories, presented in collaboration with journalist Knodell and artist Delliquanti (O Human Star Volume Two, 2017), whose bold colors bring a vividness reminiscent of pop art to the murkiness of the conflict. Reportage and reflections from a variety of perspectives suggest that the American soldiers have no idea of what they’re doing there or how best to fight an enemy that is indistinguishable by uniform. Those who live in Afghanistan fear the Americans and the Taliban alike while knowing that war will persist and nothing significant will change even if America withdraws its troops.
There are no larger truths to be found in this brief graphic narrative, and perhaps there will never be. These comics do not depict a faceless enemy, but they suggest compassion, bravery, and even heroism despite the absurdities of a war with no purpose and seemingly no end.