Pride of Baghdad

By Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon & various (DC/Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0314-6 (HB) 978-1-4012-0315-3 (PB) 978-1-4012-4894-9 (Deluxe Edition)

It’s a stomach-turning truism that war is a political tool of many modern leaders. It would be beyond crass to suggest that anything good at all came out of the monstrous debacle of the Iraq invasion (or any other proxy war for blatant political gain of grudge-settling) but trenchant-critique-masquerading-as-parable Pride of Baghdad derived from that pocket conflict and at least offered a unique perspective on a small, cruel and utterly avoidable moment of bloody history. Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Goražde (2000) and Joe Kubert’s Fax from Sarajevo (1996) worked in a similar vein for the last Balkan conflict of the previous century. I wonder what will become the fictions and dramas of the catastrophes we’re not stopping now in Ukraine, parts of Africa and Gaza; and what effect – if any – they might have on future generations?

In Pride of Baghdad, author and screenwriter Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Runaways, Paper Girls, Saga, Lost) and Niko Henrichon (Barnum!, Fables, Sandman, Spider-Man), combined the narrative tools of Walt Disney and George Orwell to reconstruct an anthropomorphised tale of a family of lions. These mighty innocent bystanders were unwillingly liberated from the city zoo during the taking of Baghdad, and left to run loose in those deadly streets until their tragic end. Throughout the entire debacle the beasts were scared, hungry, under constant attack but utterly convinced that everything would be great because now they are free…

This is not a spoiler. It is a warning. This inexplicably out-of-print book is a beautiful, uncompromising, powerful tale with characters you will swiftly come to love and they die because of political fecklessness, commercial venality and human frailty. It’s a story that’s happening again right now but with different victims…

The seductively magical artwork makes the inevitable tragedy that results a confusing and wondrous experience: Vaughan’s script could make a stone – and perhaps even a right-wing politician – cry. In 2014 a deluxe edition was released containing a trove of developmental sketches, commentary and other materials.

The original comic story was derived from a random news item which told of escaped zoo lions roaming war-torn Baghdad streets, and throughout readers are made to see the invasion in terms other than those of commercial news-gatherers and governmental spin-doctors, and hopefully we can use those off-message opinions to inform our own. This is a lovely, haunting, brutally sad story: a modern masterpiece showing why words and pictures have such power that they can terrify bigots and tyrants of all types. Brace yourself for a wave of similar material from contemporary condemnatory cartoonists. It’s the very least that we can do.
© 2006 Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon. All Rights Reserved.