How War Begins Review

By | Wednesday, April 24, 2024 Leave a Comment
I was only nominally aware of the First Chechen War, but I recall loosely following the Second Chechen War and not understanding Vladirimir Putin's intentions behind it. As far as I could tell, the land itself wasn't especially valuable and the region was sparsely populated enough that any additional taxes he might try to extort out of its citizens wouldn't amount to nearly the costs of what he was spending in bombing the ever-loving crap out of them. To this day, I don't see any upside to that war from Putin's perspective other than the wholly egotistical ability to claim that he 'won.' I don't see his war in Ukraine much differently; there's not enough there that can possibly be valuable to Putin besides being able to say that he 'won.'

Sadly, though, that seems to be enough for him. And he's trying his damnest to slaughter any- and everyone in the region.

You've seen/heard the news. While the Russo-Ukrainian War has been going on since 2014, in 2022 Putin massively amplified the conflict with an open, full-scale invasion. And here again, he's trying to bomb the ever-loving crap out of them. I suspect one of the primary reasons this war hasnt gone the way of the Chechen War is because his "strategy" is to just keep throwing more troops and weapons at them until everything crumbles, but the military resources at his disposal are wearing thin. But that doesn't mean he's not able to inflict pain and suffering to the Ukranian people. And that's where Igort's How War Begins comes in.

Igort has taken stories of people involved in the war and put them in comic form. Stories he heard directly from the people themselves, usually relayed over the phone. He told a new story each, originally posting these online, as something between graphic journalism and simply bearing witness to the ongoing tragedies. There is no through-line to these stories, no single protagonist that we follow, and no ending. It's a series of vignette after vignette after vignette, each capturing a small fragment of the larger picture. Everyday people relaying how their lives have been totally upended by Putin's egotisical whim. Some talk about the family they've lost, some saw their homes destroyed, some just trying not to starve. Some stories are several pages long, others are barely more than a few sentences. They're all heart-breaking. It's not an especially long book but it took me rather a while to get through because I had to keep setting it aside.

As far as the formal elements of comics go, it's honestly closer to illustrated prose. There's no question that it does fit what I think most people would recognize as "comics" but there are also a lot of extended text passages with many silent, stand-alone panels. But it's still illustrated very well, and even those instances where the images just sit next to the text, they do compliment each other very well. But, frankly, that's not why you should pick this up anyway.

You should pick this up to bear witness to what's happening in Ukraine right now. Not the media stories with broad statistics about the number of casualties or troops' ground movements or whatever, but the real stories -- the human stories -- of people who are being forced to live through this. This is the very real effects that trying to rain death and destruction down on the Ukranian people looks like. None of these vignettes have endings -- the war is still ongoing after all -- but it's probably better that they don't because I strongly suspect the vast majority of them would end in death.

How War Begins came out from Fantagraphics last month and retails for $29.99 US.
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