Monday, December 24, 2018

Thirty One Days Of CCS #24: A Whole Lifetime Of Firsts

A Whole Lifetime Of Firsts. This is the second collaboration between CCS cartoonists and the White River Junction VA, featuring veteran's stories focusing in on women. The first CCS/VA collaboration was good, but this one is excellent. There's a level of depth and execution in transcribing the stories of women in the military in a variety of ways that's striking. On top of that, telling stories that haven't necessarily been part of the public discourse up til recently is also something that adds to their impact.

"Mitzi's Story" is written by co-editor J.D. Lunt (CCS president James Sturm is the other editor). She is a former NCO who wound up in places like Kosovo and Iraq. For her, even though she's a closeted lesbian, military service was her life. That was also despite a sexual assault and soldiers of lower rank frequently ignoring her orders. When she was honorably discharged because of an injury, she was ill-equipped to face civilian life despite being married. She got hooked on drugs, arrested and tried to kill herself before really deciding to embrace rehab. After a lifetime of being told she wasn't good or smart enough and enduring enough PTSD for a dozen people, her ability to endure and thrive is simply remarkable. Garcia uses a standard nine-panel grid with a visual approach that's a little ragged, yet appropriate for the subject.

"I Got Your Six" is from Daryl Seitchik & Dan Nott, and it's about an Army nurse who was in Viet Nam. There's a lot of story to tell here, and Seitchik & Nott use a twelve-panel grid to pack it all in. Despite that, they tell the story with a great deal of clarity, making frequent use of switching black & white negative space. Every panel is well-balanced in this regard, making the linework easy to grasp and contextualize. This story focuses more on her experiences in the war as a nurse and less on what happened afterwards, though she does note how much hostility she faced as a veteran of Viet Nam when she returned. What I found most fascinating is her intuitive understanding of how important psychological care was for soldiers in addressing PTSD at a time when it was not understood or used.

"Isolated Duty" is a story with the opposite scenario: a woman in the Navy in the 70s got injured and met the love of her life who was also a woman in the military. Drawn by Rachel Ford and written by Sarah Yahm and Kurt Shaffert, this is a nicely-constructed comic that at times is perhaps a bit too spare with regard to facial expressions. The theme of being taken care of and now taking care of her partner resonates, especially with the way they keep their romance alive despite her partner's increasingly diminished mental capacity. Finally, "Kathi: A Life Well Traveled" is about an Air Force nurse who was in Europe and later Viet Nam, and it's by Catherine Garbarino and Kelly L. Swann. The artists make extensive use of grayscale shading to add to the sense of this being akin to an old book of photos, filled with memories. Kathi is a relentlessly upbeat presence and was regarded as such in Viet Nam, even earning a Bronze Star for the way she enhanced morale. This is not to say that there weren't painful moments, like a truck accident that she still couldn't discuss, and a young boy in a leper colony that she wanted to adopt but couldn't, but she still mostly stayed positive. All of this was told from her perspective of being treated for cancer at eighty years old, staying positive to the end. The way each story had a different focus and featured several different armed services spoke to the variety of experiences, as well as the need for each of these women to tell their story. These are stories that needed to be told, and the artists found different ways to get there.

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