For going on six years I've been a freelance war correspondent. I wrote a comic book about the experience and conned a very talented artist named Matt Bors into drawing it. It's called War is Boring, and it comes out next week from New American Library.
War correspondence -- that makes sense, people tell me. By why comics? they ask.
Because words seem to want to connect like plumbing: one piece at a time in a perfect line, no gap between them. But images are like dreams. They're wispy. They linger. And as they fade, they mix with the images that preceded them and follow. Comics combine words and images. You get the solid, logical effect of words plus the images' gauzy wrapper. That lets you do all sorts of interesting things with story. You can say one thing with your text while implying another with the art. You can describe hints of untold back-stories with a few strokes of ink even as the narration leaves no doubt about your main point. "Look here," the words declare. "Imagine this," the art whispers.
In War is Boring I recall my work in Afghanistan. In mid 2007 I visited the Dutch army in Uruzgan, a remote, arid southern province containing a key Taliban supply route. The Netherlands, a country without much recent combat experience, had volunteered to command a very dangerous province, without the average Dutch person seeming to appreciate the implications. The result was a study in contrasts that words alone cannot do justice. You have to see the Dutch base, with its cappuccino machine, wireless Internet, air-conditioned rooms and Sunday fresh-fish buffet. That image must linger even as we turn our attention to the preparations of a Taliban suicide bomber. He wraps his torso in a bomb, surrendering with each gesture another year of his life, another year of food and drinks and the creature comforts that most of us in the developed world prize more than anything.
It was a hot, bright day when that bomber struck a Dutch delegation at a girls' school, right down the street from where I was videotaping a team of Australian engineers building a soccer field. There was smoke and confusion. There were bodies and pieces of bodies on the road. There was fear on the soldiers' faces and horror in the eyes of survivors. Those, too, you must see to appreciate. You must let their images linger -- all without forgetting that the war, and my retelling of it, have a clear, though highly debatable, point.