Terminal Lance coverBy Maximilian Uriarte
288 7x10.5-inch pages
color (tints)
2016 Little Brown

The subtitle “Terminal Lance” refers to a webcomic Uriarte launched in 2010 after being in the Marines since 2006 and just before he left the Corps. “Terminal lance” is Marine slang for a Marine who finishes his enlistment without making further advances in rank than lance corporal, E-3, only two steps up the ladder from raw recruit. The phrase is tacked onto the graphic novel title probably in order to connect it to the webcomic so readers of the latter would buy the former; it’s not an otherwise justifiable connection. But the principal character in both is a Marine named Abe.

Uriarte enlisted in the Marines in 2006 at the age of 19, and during his 4-year hitch, he served two combat deployments to Iraq.

Amazon calls The White Donkey “a graphic novel of war and its aftermath,” going on to say: “A powerful, compulsively page-turning, vivid, and moving tribute to the experience of war and PTSD, The White Donkey tells the story of Abe, a young Marine recruit who experiences the ugly, pedestrian, and often meaningless side of military service in rural Iraq. He enlists in hopes of finding that missing something in his life but comes to find out that it's not quite what he expected. Abe gets more than he bargained for.

“This is a story about a Marine, written and illustrated by a Marine, and is the first graphic novel about the war in Iraq from a veteran. The White Donkey explores the experience of being a Marine, as well as the challenges that veterans face upon their return home, and its raw power will leave you in awe.”

I’m not so sure that I was left in awe after reading the book. But certain scenes and sequences haunt me still. And I can see why The White Donkey has hit so many of its readers hard (read the rave reviews at Amazon.com) and why it was a New York Times bestseller: the book is, as it says without sufficient emphasis above, “the first graphic novel about the war in Iraq from a veteran.” The author’s personal experience of a brutal war that we are all trying to forget gives the graphic novel the stamp of authenticity that attracts attention and applause. It has all the right ingredients: it’s a graphic novel, a genre of immense popularity just now; it’s about a nasty war; and the graphic artist is himself a veteran, a survivor, of the nastiness.

In short, this is a graphic novel that is true.

Towards the end of the book, Abe’s best friend, Garcia, is killed by an IED. Abe goes to pieces. That’s the short of the story. In the long of it, Uriarte makes good use of the medium’s resources.

The ending, by the time we come upon it, is predictable. In fact, the book as a whole is a predictable almost “familiar” (because we’ve heard this story before) account of one disillusioned Marine’s short life. Uriarte gives it drama by depicting the monotony of training camps and the routines of military life in Iraq, the ever-present menace that surrounds it, and the horror of sudden, absolute death in a seemingly uneventful albeit threatening environment.

And then there’s the White Donkey. When we first see it, it’s standing in the road, holding up a parade of military vehicles. In Uriarte’s mind, the White Donkey seems in its simple existence to deny or refute the power of the American miliary in all its horrifying glory.

In his book, the White Donkey appears six times.

The White Donkey in all its manifestations simply appears and then disappears. It performs no function — except as a kind of symbol, a symbol heralding perhaps the ineffectiveness and therefore the meaninglessness of life.

Once one accepts life’s meaningless, he/she can go on living.

Uriarte’s story does not leave me in a state of awe. But his literary use of a symbol does.





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