Welcome to another installment of This Comic Is History. For this month’s feature, we have Pride of Baghdad, written by Brian K. Vaughan, and drawn by Niko Henrichon. Published in 2006 by DC’s Vertigo imprint, this graphic novel takes place in Baghdad, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Normally this column would feature a comic that was set in a more historical time. In past editions we’ve traveled to the American Civil War, 16th century Japan, and back to World War II. While Pride of Baghdad may not take us to some bygone era, it is historical nonetheless.
When the Baghdad zoo was damaged by the bombing in April of 2003, there were several animals that escaped. The zoo was abandoned when the conflict reached Baghdad. Many of the animals were stolen by looters, or released into the city. Those that remained in their pens went for days without food.
After some time, three lionesses and one male lion were able to claw out of their enclosures through a crumbling wall. Some of the animals that had been set loose eventually found their way back to the zoo. Among these were two bears who wandered back after days of being free. The lions, however, had a bit of an adventure.
It was these four lions, and what happened to them after they escaped the zoo, which became Vaughan’s inspiration for this book.
Pride of Baghdad
Most of this book takes place apart from the human fighting. Once they leave the zoo, it’s pretty much just the lions and their adventures. Although Pride of Baghdad isn’t directly focused on the war, it is on your mind throughout the book. Whereas there aren’t any direct opinions on whether the war was the right thing to do or not, this story will undoubtedly make you wonder about such things. As well as questions, not necessarily about this war in particular, but armed conflict in general, and perhaps about our current environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Vaughan succeeds in presenting a view of the war from the animals’ perspective. Much like the general public in Iraq, these lions are not involved in the fighting. They don’t know why the humans are fighting. They’re just caught up in all of the turmoil. They also get to try to deal with what’s left of their life after the bombs have stopped exploding.
The fact that they’re animals may make it easier for us to open up and try to understand the plight of those caught in the middle of the fighting. Animals aren’t evil, or greedy, or hateful. We don’t view animals with any racial or ethnic bias. That fact will definitely help us to get more out Pride of Baghdad than simply a good story. It’ll help us to better understand, and empathize with, those who suffer as a result of the conflicts taking place between warring nations. As you read this book you find yourself really feeling for the lions. One question you could ask yourself is, “Would I have the same feelings of sorrow and sympathy toward them if they were people?” People who are of a different race, ethnicity, or nationality than ourselves?
What Vaughan and Henrichon give us is a group of lions who’ve escaped their captivity. They endeavor to show us the city of Baghdad as the lions experienced it after leaving the confines of the zoo. Henrichon is able to convey emotions in the facial expressions and body language of the lions quite successfully. This coupled with Vaughan’s writing gives us a convincingly real view of some of the consequences of the war, from the animals’ perspective. Overall, the artwork in this book is pretty amazing.
After their escape, the lions make their way through the city, trying to survive. They need to find food, and shelter, and they need to do it all on their own. Before the war, they were used to being fed and taken care of by their keepers. Its a whole new world for them now. The decision to leave the zoo wasn’t unanimous among the lions, and they do encounter no small amount of trouble on the outside. They have a few encounters with other animals, which make for some interesting and exciting pages. I especially liked the turtle that they encountered along the banks of the Tigris river. When one of the lions asks this turtle why the humans are fighting, he replies “Damned if I know son…” and he finishes it up in the image below.
Pride of Baghdad is a good read, with a great story, and a fair amount of action too. Much like the bears mentioned earlier, these four lions were in fact seen again. The book’s ending follows pretty much the exact course of real events that took place back in 2003. To find out how the lions fared on their journey outside the zoo, you’re going to have to go get your own copy.
If you’d like to hear more about this book, and the inspiration behind it, click here to listen to Brian K. Vaughan on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. It’s a pretty good interview, and gives some real insight into the genesis of this book, as well as Vaughan’s goals with it.