Graphic Novels and me is a very recent love-story, so I cannot boast of having read too many of them but every single time I have come across one, I have been amazed by the plethora of ways in which the format can be truly influential.
One would think that a (partly) anthropomorphic graphic novel wouldn’t be the exact place to explore the heavier questions about longing for a ‘home’ or being secure in the nests or about what exactly is “freedom” for us. But there are times there comes a story that gives newer meanings to philosophies, better meanings than any philosophy book could probably give and this is one of them.
“Pride of Baghdad” was among the first gifts sent to me by a loved one, albeit accepted after a lot of pre-conditions. How those conditions became blurred later and almost are invisible now and how books start stories of forevers is a matter of discussion for another day!
Coming back to the book – “Pride of Baghdad” is based on true events that unfolded in a Baghdad zoo in the April of 2003 when a pride of 4 lions escaped in the city during the bombing of Iraq.
What makes this slim volume so devastating is the fact that the story is presented from the point of view of the lions and the colors and the imagery is riotously painted, par excellence, by Henrichon, to depict the changing intensity of the events transpiring. The eventual impact is that even if the novel has just few pages, Vaughan not only manages to get the readers attached to the pride emotionally, but also gets them to ruminate over the bigger questions the story manages to plant in the mind.
The story begins with perturbed cawing calls of “The Sky is Falling”. It then introduces us to our Pride of 4 and we get to know their individual personalities in just a couple of sentences. Each of them has a different idea of freedom. While one wants to plot a revolution against the keepers of the zoo to attain freedom, the other one, wizened and defeated, decides that what they are enjoying now is freer than what they would otherwise have to face in their natural habitat. There is a flashback scene here which is remarkably well-crafted.
The readers are then taken through the bombing, the escape, the difficulties before and after the escape, the pride’s encounters with threats and enemies, the thirst and the hunger that comes with the idea of freedom, the meaning of friends and foes while the pride tries to stay together against all odds and ultimately, the heart-wrenching climax.
Colors like red, orange, green, deepest shades of blues, greys and whites, are lavishly used to portray emotions like peace, war, fire, affection, fear, bravado and destruction. The lettering and fonts change as the sentiments change, and as the story progressed for me everything came together and my mind started playing Hans Zimmerman-ish music in the background – serene one moment and suffocating the next.
The end is disquieting. You would want to be thankful for the ability bestowed upon you, of being able to express emotions through words, and at the same time, a sense of unease will set in because nothing of that ability will ever change the fact that wars are a man-made phenomenon we will have to probably live with forever.
All you then would need is a box of tissues, a mug of hot chocolate and a hug from a loved one.