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Comic (Graphic Novel) Review: Pride of Baghdad

Allow me to introduce myself. 

Hi, I'm Mellissa and I know absolutely nothing about comic books.

 

Full transparency: I have been an avid reader my entire life. In elementary school I was the class suck up that would offer to read books ahead of the rest of the class and let the teacher know if I, in all of my wisdom, felt the other kids would truly appreciate the literary masterpiece for what it was. 

If you ever needed to find me in junior high and high school, you could bet I was hiding in a corner with my nose in a book. And as an adult I collect works by my favorite authors, often reading the same novels numerous times because I become attached to the characters. 

How Comic Books Entered the Picture

I won't lie to you. When I started dating my husband and he told me he was into comic books, my mind immediately wondered how we could possibly have intellectual conversation. I'm sure that will make me extremely unpopular with his followers, but bear with me! I married him, so obviously I now know comic geeks are capable of excellent conversation!

The point of this blog series is to see if it's possible for a bookworm who loves exceptionally detailed, often complex, novels to be transformed into a comic book aficionado.

Tim (Izzy) assures me that comic books are more than just super heroes and villains. He has almost convinced me that it might be possible to lose myself in a comic book or graphic novel and not be distracted by pictures along the way. So, I wanted to test it out. 

Pride of Baghdad 

For my first comic book/graphic novel experience Tim recommended Pride of Baghdad. His reasoning was that he wanted me to see that comic books can be deep. For the record, he made the perfect choice. 

*Spoilers ahead

Written by Brian K. Vaughan with art by Niko Henrichon, Pride of Baghdad was published in 2006 by Vertigo, a DC Comics imprint. 

This (true, but obviously fictionalized) story follows four lions who escape from the zoo they are living in when Iraq is bombed by U.S. forces in 2003. The lions find themselves suddenly free after years in captivity, and each one is faced with challenges as they come to terms with their newfound freedom. 

Safa is an older lioness who appreciates life in captivity. Being "free" has no appeal to her because she is grateful that the zoo keepers provide for her. In one sequence, we are shown the traumatic events she faced while living in the wild, and it's easy to understand why she would want to live out the rest of her days in the comfort of her den at the zoo. 

Zill is the only adult male lion, and seems content with whatever life throws at him. He's neither hungry for freedom, or too bothered by the sudden displacement he's thrown into.

Noor is another lioness in the pride, and is the polar opposite of Safa. Noor has been plotting with other zoo residents to escape from the life of captivity that she feels is torture. When the zoo is bombed, she sees this as their opportunity to be free but is torn because she thinks freedom should be earned, not given.

Ali is a young lion cub, Noor's son, who is curious about the outside world and is excited to experience freedom for the first time in his life. Seeing a real life version of the horizons Zill describes to him is Ali's dream.

Art 

After I finished reading the story, I went back through the graphic novel and focused solely on the pictures. I don't even like calling them "pictures". That makes me feel like I'm talking about a child's book. This book is full of ART.

Even without the words, the art in Pride of Baghdad tells the story beautifully. It would be hard to look through the pages and not understand the depth of emotion going on with the characters. 

There are places in the story that are easily recognizable. Because I know Tim (as well as several other people close to me) stood in some of the same places the characters in this story stood, it made this story even more real in my eyes.

Is This Really a Comic Book?

Ok, this story hit me harder than I expected. When I hear the term "Comic Book" this is definitely NOT what I envision. How is it possible to feel so much emotion when reading a story about lions? I did not expect to be pulled into the world of these characters, and have their story stay with me all day after I was done reading. 

I don't want to give away the ending, because I really think you should read it and experience it for yourself. But I will say that the way the author personified these lions and gave each one a different perspective on life was absolutely brilliant. It was like a Disney movie for adults.

My Verdict

I'm surprised. I really am. I know not all of the comic books I read will hit me the way this one did, but this was definitely a great start. I don't feel that the art distracted from the story like I expected it to. If anything, it made it easier for me to connect with the characters. 

I am used to spending at least a couple days to a week reading, and thought it would be hard for an hour of reading to make an impact on me. But I was wrong. 

The ending of Pride of Baghdad was gut-wrenchingly beautiful. I wish it had ended differently, but a fairytale ending would not have done justice to the plight of this pride. 

Read it. Even if it's not your style. You'll thank me later!

 Have a Recommendation?

Leave a comment below if you have a suggestion for a comic/series you think I should read and review! I'm open to all ideas!

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