In SWH’s recent interview with Rodge Glass (see Edinburgh Exchange: An Interview with Rodge Glass) he mentioned that the next project that he was involved with that would see publication was the graphic novel Dougie’s War. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I didn’t expect this.
I am a lover of the graphic novel and comic book, and this one is as beautifully produced as I have encountered. The contrast between the quality of the publication and its hard hitting content is marked; gloriously, and I would imagine deliberately, so. If you want people to hear your difficult story then the best thing is to present it in a manner that is accessible and recognisable. In this sense the format of graphic novel is perfect and it is just one of the reasons that Dougie’s War works so well.
Glass has written a moving but searingly honest story of one man’s struggle to come to terms with civilian life after his return from Afghanistan. This is not a tale simply imagined. Painstaking research and many rounds of interviews with veterans were undertaken to make sure that Dougie’s story was one that rang true to soldier, veteran and civilian alike. The story is simply told, which work’s not only for Dougie’s character and his state of mind, but also keeps the reader focused. Glass has done well to reign in his novelistic tendencies to only tell what is necessary and let the pictures show the rest. As Glass says ‘a graphic novel is a joint effort’, and the balance struck between writer and illustrator seems well balanced.
The graphics come courtesy of Dave Turrett, and the style of his drawings perfectly suits the story that it depicts. There are obvious nods to earlier ‘soldier’ stories such as you would find in British comics of the 60s, 70s and 80s, but there are also echoes of more recent graphic novels that deal with conflict such as Art Spiegelmen’s Maus, Emmanuel Guibert’s Alan’s War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope and Marjan Satrapi’s Persepolis. Here is an example of Dave’s work on Dougie’s War:
But this is not simply a graphic novel. There are factual accounts from veterans as told to Adrian Searle, the man behind the publication, and these are accompanied by some incredible black and white photography taken on a tour of duty in Helmand Province by Sergeant Nick Collins of the Black Watch. This section is as important to Dougie’s War as the graphic novel itself. These real life testimonies are not only informative and powerful in their own right, but they lend a legitimacy to the strip that it may otherwise not have had.
Glass has said that this is not an ‘anti-war’ novel. But, by depicting the reality of many soldiers existences post-conflict, it should make many of those who are attracted to army life, if not reconsider, then at least have a clearer picture of what it means to be a soldier once the soldiering stops. In a sense Dougie’s War is not about war at all, but about mental health and how society often fails to help those who suffer mental health problems. Those involved in Dougie’s War came together to try and give a voice to those who have none, and there are more people in our society to whom that applies than we should be comfortable with. Publications such as Dougie’s War are vital in reminding us that this is the case. The book should be placed in every school in the country, not to scare children or warn them off joining up, but to create a greater understanding not only of war and its consequences, but how society is only too quick to turn its back on those who do not fit the concept of a ‘civilised’ society. In doing so it shines a light on all our prejudices and preconceptions.
More information can be found at the website www.dougieswar.com
Dougie’s War can be bought from amazon.co.uk