Dead Reckoning is a (fairly new) imprint of the Naval Institute Press that publishes military-themed graphic novels and books (e.g. they have published “All Quiet on the Western Front” as a graphic novel). The Stan is a comic book based on stories collected by two American journalists (autors Kevin Knodell and David Axe) who have spent a long time covering the war in Afghanistan. The only story not based on their work is the opening chapter, which is a comic based on the life and words of former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdus Salam Zaeef. They use this first comic as a capsule history of the background to this war as well as a prediction of its futility and eventual failure. This is the only comic that gives a nod, albeit a minimalistic and relatively simple one, to the “big picture” of the Afghan war and it is a strictly anti-war and anti-interventionist one. The other comics are all about the “little people”, ordinary soldiers, an Afghan interpreter, an Afghan soldier and an Afghan policeman. The last comic is about one of the authors (Kevin Knodell), who may have some PTSD, and his parting words are that “America’s longest war was going to stretch on longer”.The stories are simple and the authors make little or no editorial comment. There is nothing revolutionary about the comic, but the overall effect is to humanize everyone involved, from the frequently idealistic and well-meaning American soldiers to their Afghan friends, hosts and enemies. Apart from the American soldiers doing various jobs there is an Afghan interpreter who can never go back home, a trainee policeman who wants to use his position to settle old scores in the village and another who wants to be Rambo. Sadly there are also kids who get blown up because the Taliban kidnapped someone and forced his brother to wear a suicide vest.
The stories shed some light on the day to day conduct of the war from a foot-soldier’s point of view and the American soldiers depicted in the book are mostly trying to do their job as best as they can, but a sense of tragic futility does hang over all of them. Unfortunately there is almost nothing from an officer’s point of view and other than Abdus Salam Zaeef saying “the American’s should have used their mind and logic after 9-11. They should have investigated. Their haste and hubris was their biggest mistake” there is no discussion of the strategic or “big picture” aspects of the war. If you want that, you will have to read some other books, but if you want a grunt’s eye view presented with sympathy for the soldiers as well as ordinary Afghans then this is not a bad place to start.
Kevin Knodell, David Axe, and Blue Delliquanti. Dead Reckoning, $16.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-68247-098-5