Thursday, 18 October 2012

Graphic Novel: Pride Of Baghdad

Pride Of Baghdad: "...cleverly written and thought-provoking."

Pride Of Baghdad, inspired by true events
Pride Of Baghdad is inspired by the true story of a pride of lions living in Baghdad Zoo, which, during the Iraq War was partially destroyed by a bomb and thus granted the lions their opportunity for freedom.  Initially hungry and confused, the lions embarked on a search for food and a struggle for their lives.  As you might have already guessed writer Brian K.Vaughan cleverly uses the lions to make parallels between the war going on around them at that time and he also investigates the true meaning and price of freedom and the struggles faced in the quest for that freedom.

One of the reasons why Pride Of Baghdad works so well is down to the story being told from the point of view of the animals.  The lions debate their fate and their options at every step of their journey and each of the lions has been given a distinctive personality which makes for an interesting cast of characters. 

I personally found Zill, the male leader of the group, to be the least interesting but he’s nevertheless a necessary character to hold the group together and keep the peace when the two females within the group occasionally bicker.  The inquisitive Ali, an enthusiastic cub who sees the world as one big adventure, adds far more colour to the story and in some ways is no different from a human child, torn between his curious prying nature and his longing for the reassuring protection of his mother. 

Noor, the mother of Ali, believes in taking control of her own destiny and at the start of the story dreams of escape and a return to the thrill of the wild, and is always plotting with the other animals in the zoo in the hope of finding an ally in her quest for freedom.  Ironically, when they finally do achieve their freedom, Noor suddenly transforms her outlook into a far more cautious approach and is almost reluctant to leave their home at the zoo as she argues, “Freedom can’t be given, only earned.” 

Finally Safa, the old female lioness, wants to impart the benefit of her knowledge and experience onto the others but is generally met with disinterest or sometimes outright disdain.  It would also be fair to say that her negative memories of the freedom of the wild differ somewhat from Noor’s rose-tinted picture of things. 

Perhaps one of the strengths of Pride Of Baghdad is the way it grabs hold of your emotions and features powerful scenes at both ends of the emotional spectrum.  For example, in some frames the artwork shows quite graphically some of the horrific consequences of war as seen from an animal’s point of view.  Then at other times the story is triumphant, in particular the scene when the lions finally exit the zoo and young Ali in particular is in awe at the glorious scene of nature which awaits him.  With the action being set in a war zone, however, this sense of wonder is as you’d expect short-lived.  Even before they encounter the realities of war, Ali’s excitement is quickly tempered when his first experience of nature has him discovering how disgusting the stagnant water of nature tastes compared with the clean water he had become accustomed to at the zoo. 

As the story progresses the animals’ journey and behaviour comes to mirror that of the human conflict going on around them, and there are many interesting scenes as the lions discover the world that awaits them and they interact with other animals along the way.  It all builds to a powerful and emotional climax which reminds you once again very dramatically that this is a story set during a period of war. 

With any graphic novel the artwork is obviously a key ingredient, but because of Pride Of Baghdad’s emotional climax, it was perhaps even more important than usual to find a style of art which reinforced the message of the story and Niko Henrichon’s artwork does that exceptionally well.  He expertly captures the emotion and personalities of each individual lion and really brings them alive.  I don’t know if this is an opinion unique to myself, but in my case it also conjured up an image of the style of art I would usually associate with animation. 

From reading various reviews of other movies, books and graphic novels over the years I've noticed that when entertainment uses war for its inspiration (or indeed any emotive subject), you do sometimes disappointingly find that people judge the movie, book or in this case graphic novel based on how closely the story endorses their own personal opinions, rather than judging the movie, book or graphic novel on its own merits as a piece of art or entertainment. 

With Pride Of Baghdad that isn't likely to be as big an issue as for the most part the story doesn’t openly take sides.  Instead, Pride Of Baghdad simply reports on the lions’ journey towards freedom and records some of the consequences and prices to be paid as they head down that path.  To add to the balanced viewpoint, each of the lions has a differing view on freedom.  Pride Of Baghded then lets the reader make their own mind up as to whether they feel that price is worth paying. 

In fact in many instances Pride Of Baghdad goes beyond simply examining the fight for freedom on a military level and also focuses on the issue of freedom on a more personal individual level.  As a result of the questions asked and dilemmas raised, long after I had finished reading this graphic novel I found my mind repeatedly returning to the subject matter which is a sure sign of a powerful story.

For many people who don’t actually read comics, the image of a comic book is probably something they might categorise as being synonymous with super heroes fighting to save the world from the latest evil villain with twisted plans of destruction.  However, the world of comics and graphic novels in particular has many more dimensions to it than just the super hero genre, so for anyone yet to discover the diversity of stories found within the comic book medium, they would be well advised to read Pride Of Baghdad to learn how cleverly written comics, or graphic novels, can be. 

But whether a newcomer or a seasoned veteran of comic entertainment, Pride Of Baghdad is a graphic novel which I enjoyed on many levels and one which I would therefore strongly recommend to anyone who likes their entertainment to be beautifully told, thought-provoking and with hidden depth and added layers.

Pride Of Baghdad is published by Vertigo Comics.  Follow Vertigo Comics on twitter:

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Please note, all promotional images used on this blog remain the copyright of the respective publishers and are used in accordance with 'Fair Use' legislation for review purposes.

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