There are no larger truths to be found in this brief graphic narrative, and perhaps there will never be. These comics do not...

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.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68247-098-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Dead Reckoning/Naval Institute Press

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018


An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009


Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck.

A new life and book arise from the ashes of a devastating California wildfire.

These days, it seems the fires will never end. They wreaked destruction over central California in the latter months of 2018, dominating headlines for weeks, barely a year after Fies (Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, 2009) lost nearly everything to the fires that raged through Northern California. The result is a vividly journalistic graphic narrative of resilience in the face of tragedy, an account of recent history that seems timely as ever. “A two-story house full of our lives was a two-foot heap of dead smoking ash,” writes the author about his first return to survey the damage. The matter-of-fact tone of the reportage makes some of the flights of creative imagination seem more extraordinary—particularly a nihilistic, two-page centerpiece of a psychological solar system in which “the fire is our black hole,” and “some veer too near and are drawn into despair, depression, divorce, even suicide,” while “others are gravitationally flung entirely out of our solar system to other cities or states, and never seen again.” Yet the stories that dominate the narrative are those of the survivors, who were part of the community and would be part of whatever community would be built to take its place across the charred landscape. Interspersed with the author’s own account are those from others, many retirees, some suffering from physical or mental afflictions. Each is rendered in a couple pages of text except one from a fellow cartoonist, who draws his own. The project began with an online comic when Fies did the only thing he could as his life was reduced to ash and rubble. More than 3 million readers saw it; this expanded version will hopefully extend its reach.

Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3585-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Abrams ComicArts

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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