Chris Blattman

African civil war (superhero edition)

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unknown-soldier-1-650Given my research on child soldiers and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, a good many readers pointed me to this New York Times article:

Not many monthly comic books come with a glossary, but not many comics are like Unknown Soldier.

…Unknown Soldier, published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics, is about Dr. Lwanga Moses, a Ugandan whose family fled the country for the United States when he was 7. He returns as an adult in 2002 with his wife, Sera, also a physician, hoping to put their medical skills to use in a part of the country that has experienced civil war for 15 years.

Moses is disfigured by the LRA and takes to the bush to wage a one man war against leader Joseph Kony.

My first reaction: This is patently absurd. Northern Uganda can simply not get any more kitsch.

Second reaction: Better not jump to conclusions. To the comic book store.

Third reaction: Whoa. This is simply outstanding.

Tasteful. Thoughtful. Compelling. Gripping. Historically accurate (well, mostly–I mean this is a comic book). Writer Joshua Dysart has done leaps and bounds better then virtually every journalist (and a fair number of researchers) that I know.

Granted, I’ve only read two issues (7 and 8). But I look forward to the release next week of issues 1 to 6 as a graphic novel.

Full disclosure: I am a closet comic book nut, although I haven’t bought one for 22 years. At 13 my Batman/Spiderman/X-men comic book collection was stolen. The insurance company gave me two grand and I gave up comics for good, buying a 286 PC instead–a historical relic that augured my academic and blogging future.

In any case, judge Unknown Soldier for youself with this pdf excerpt. Or see more on Dysart’s general blog and his Unknown Soldier blog.

10 Responses

  1. To anybody reading this blog post who isn’t reading Unknown Soldier: stop right now and go and buy a copy. While it’s at the mercy of an action comic narrative (one which I worry is going to run out of steam before we run out of story), Joshua has really gotten into the guts of this particular conflict, but also into the many ways in which conflict in general destroys lives. This is one of the most impressive comics to be published by the mainstream comics companies in a long time.

  2. Thank you so much for getting the word out on our comic book, and for given us a real shot at changing your gut instinct. It means so much to me that people working in the economic development field have responded positively to this book. As you have seen in the issues you’ve read, we make some wild creative decisions and are unabashedly pulp entertainment at times… but… but… I work very, very hard to make sure it’s all couched in fundamental truths about the politics of the region, the culture of the Acholi and the human frailties in us all. So far we’ve been contacted by psychologist working on PTSD in Acholi war affected youth, doctors from Médecins Sans Frontières, and others and no one has yet berated us for being exploitive (my worst fear).

    So far, so good.

    Thanks again fro showing the love.

    – Joshua Dysart (writer of UNKNOWN SOLDIER)

  3. Did you know that the World Bank does (or did) manga comics — including one on child soldiers. I never read the latter but the 13 year-old in our household devoured it and said it was ‘cool’…


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