Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reader's Diary #856- Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Niko Henrichon (Artist): Pride of Baghdad

I debated not publishing this review yet. I usually pride myself on being a well rounded reader, but this makes 3 graphic novels in a row. I'm more than a graphic novel reader, really I am!

And in any case, I couldn't wait to gush about this one. Pride of Baghdad really blew me away.

In 2003, after the Americans bombed Baghdad, four lions apparently escaped from the zoo. Brian K. Vaughan uses this as the starting point of his story, sometimes giving the lions human dialogue and personalities.

Just a few pages in I was thinking of a few younger graphic novel readers to whom I could recommend this book. Then I turned the page. Beginning with the loss of the lioness Safa's eye, Vaughan establishes the violent and mature tone that follows. It's relentless and un-put-down-able. It could definitely be seen as bleak, but this is war after all, and Vaughan pulls no punches.

Furthermore, it's intelligent. On the surface, it's a tale of survival: lions in an unfamiliar setting, trying to find food amidst bombs and tanks. That in itself is enough to hold a reader's attention. But beyond that there's so much more to discover and discuss. The most obvious of such diversions comes from the opposing viewpoints of the two lionesses. Safa, who's come to appreciate the life her captors had provided and would rather have stayed at the zoo, and Noor, the mother of the cub Ali and who has long plotted to escape the artificiality of the zoo. Could these characters represent different mindsets of the Iraqi people under Saddam's regime? Possibly, and that's just one of many potential talking points. In another scene, a bear says to the lion Zill, "if you people had simply stayed where you belonged, I might have protected you, but you just had to cut off your nose to spite your face." Who does the bear represent? Clearly Vaughan meant this to be an analogy. I'd love to read this book again and again and discuss such points with others. What, for instance, is the significance in the fact that the lions never get to eat during the entire book? Unlike other authors who sometimes seem to leave their writing vague, under the guise of higher meaning but having nothing to really offer, I'm convinced that everything in this book is intentional and purposeful.

As for the artwork, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was by a Canadian, Niko Henrichon. The lines are sketchy and reminded me of those special features sometimes found on animated movie DVDs that show early renditions of particular characters and scenes. This unrefined look may not be everyone's cup of tea but it does add a graininess that fits the setting wonderfully. It's also coloured stunningly and that alone should make any reader appreciate the work put in by Henrichon.


Nikki in Niagara said...

Sounds wonderful, John! I haven't heard of this before but it's going on my tbr.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Pride of Baghdad sounds rich and full, a book that is just begging to be the subject of a book club discussion. I too am adding it to the list.

John Mutford said...

Nicola: One of the best books I've read this far, for sure.

Barbara: Good luck finding a book club open-minded enough for graphic novels!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Good point, John. I'd also need to find one that allows me 6 weeks to finish a book.