The Cartoon Picayune

Showing the Past with Comics, Part One: OBL

Non-fiction comics have been appearing in exciting places lately: major print magazines. In two posts this week I want to focus on two stories in particular, both illustrating scenes from the past that are not available to audiences, but for two very different reasons.

The first is retelling of very recent history that everyone knows — the death of Osama Bin Laden. Here's Rob Walker, talking about this for Design Observer:

The image of the year, hands down, is the image of Osama Bin Laden, dead. I haven’t seen it of course, and unless you have fairly rarified security access, you haven’t either. That’s why it’s the most compelling image of 2011: At this point, there’s nothing more surprising, and fascinating, than an image people might want to see, but can’t.

And if you want that image and don't have time/money to create a major motion picture? Try comics! That's what the editors of GQ decided to do and they got Matt Fraction and Nathan Fox — who respectively write and draw comics for major publishers — to create "For God and Country: An Illustrated Account of the Raid on Osama bin Laden." Go ahead and take a look.

After reading this piece, I'm left wondering, was the point of it merely to reenact a violent death of a wanted terrorist, or was the intent to actually present something new and to engage the readership on a deeper level? Writer Matt Fraction's remarks on the site's interactive commentary are an interesting insight into his intent, and it seems like he tried to do his homework:

I looked at maps and blueprints, read as many differently sourced recaps as I could find, and made some judicious editorial decisions. The verisimilitude of the piece was key to me, to reduce the fiction as much as possible. Certain things logically suggest themselves while others had to be presumed.

I can relate. But the last comment, over the panel where Bin Laden is getting shot in the head, leads me to believe it was probably the former rather than the latter: "In the end I wanted to see OBL face the ultimate sanction. Fifteen minutes trapped in the room where he knew was going to die... Maybe one day I'll be more evolved."

There's nothing wrong with seeking catharsis, but it's not the journalistic approach I was hoping for. However, it's certainly not poorly put together as a work of comics. It reads easily, and if you look at the way the pages were drawn, you can see that Fox is deliberately laying out the Navy Seal panels and the Bin Laden panels in different styles, which is kind of interesting.

Fraction is the author of Casanova, one of my favorite comic book series ever, and I think he's probably better suited to fiction. Ultimately, I'm pleased that a men's magazine gave five pages in its December issue to experiment with a comic.

Later this week: a non-fiction comic, with a similar subject, that uses a completely different approach in an even more widely-read venue than GQ.

And one quick reminder... I am currently working on Cartoon Picayune #3: Spring 2012. If you are interested having me publish some of your comics, now's the time to get in touch. Also, I want some letters for my new letters column! Print this guide out, or use the inside back cover of Issue 2, and send me some thoughts, please.

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  1. Ski jumping looked scary enough in comic form but the videotape is really scary. Don’t know how they do it.

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