walkingwounded“It’s a thin line between memory and trauma.”

It’s also a thin line between fiction and non-fiction in Olivier Morel and Mael’s Walking Wounded: Uncut Stories from Iraq.

This graphic novel follows Morel from the moment he begins to conduct research on a possible documentary about Iraq War veterans to the movie’s premiere at the 2011 Chicago International Film Festival. It is also a story of the veterans’ stories.

By the time these stories arrive to the reader, they have been filtered through at least three different lenses: the lens of memory, the lens of Morel’s documentary On the Bridge, and the lens of Mael’s pen and ink. Artist Mael recognizes that it is much more effective to capture the emotional truths of PTSD and veteran suicide through surrealism rather than to stay faithful to the non-fiction narrative.

Mael’s art is absurd, yet purposeful: in one scene, a giant inflatable Santa stands imposingly against a white background as Morel strikes up conversation with Ryan, a war veteran. “Everything pisses me off. Especially me. And Santa Claus,” Ryan mutters. As Ryan begins to share his memories with Morel, Santa Claus gently floats away in the following panels, only to be replaced with the harsher memories of seeing dead civilians by the roadside in Iraq.

“Sure, it takes me back to Iraq. But it’s like a movie,” Ryan says. “I go back to hell, but I’m remaking the movie, seeing it from another angle.”

At times, this plot tends to get lost in its stories, and only a handful of veterans in the book appear fully realized as more than just their war stories. I also found myself more curious, too, about the story of the storywhat happened after the documentary premiered? How did it change the landscape of veterans affairs? What’s still the same?

Nevertheless, for readers who enjoy non-fiction war stories, this graphic novel is a solid addition to the canon.

Walking Wounded: Uncut Stories from Iraq
by Olivier Morel
Art by Mael
ISBN: 9781561639823
NBM, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 13+

  • Amy Estersohn

    | She/Her Past Reviewer

    Amy Estersohn is a seventh grade English teacher at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY and the inheritor of a large classroom library. She has always been struck by the ability of graphic novels to convey a story that transcends written language alone. That story can be for developing readers, such as the time a five-year-old saw her reading Akira on the subway and snuggled next to her, insisting he “read” along, or it can be for proficient readers who want to explore a topic in more emotional depth, such as Don Brown’s depiction of a post-Katrina New Orleans in Drowned City. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MA from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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