REVIEW: TRUE WAR STORIES goes beyond combat for a rare look at the lives of soldiers

 

True War Stories

Editors: Alex de Campi & Khai Krumbhaar
Writers: Various
Artists: Various
Color Artists: Various
Letterer: Alex de Campi
Publisher: Z2 Comics

There’s a quote attributed to Julius Ceasar on what makes life’s greatest teacher. It goes “Ut est rerum omnium magister usus,” Latin for “Experience is the best teacher.” I often think of it when reading or writing about war. It makes me question just how much civilians can ever hope to understand war or military service without having gone through the actual experience, myself included.

Reading True War Stories, an anthology of deployment tales by active duty and retired soldiers edited by Alex de Campi and Khai Krumbhaar, I felt like I was offered a rare opportunity to peek into the raw experience of soldier life from a perspective not often explored in other books of the kind. This instantly makes it an essential read for anyone wanting to explore the myriad of experiences that encompass life as a soldier.

True War Stories‘ tales are told by real soldiers, and they range from the Vietnam War all the way to the more recent American incursions into the Middle East. There’s more of the latter than the former, but the book doesn’t make any claims as to being entirely dedicated to any particular war or event. In fact, it feels more interested in framing military service as a continuum where soldier stories get added organically into the grander narrative as time passes and history accumulates.

What stands out from True War Stories is just how different each story is from the others. There are no two stories that even feel remotely similar and they often veer off the beaten path to look at more unique soldier experiences. For instance, one story is about a female soldier trying to fight off macadamia-eating rats from taking over her unit’s cookie supplies.

True War Stories

That story in particular is titled “Rebels of Macademia” and it’s written by Krumbhaar (who served in the Army as an Arabic linguist and was deployed twice to Iraq) and illustrated by Jeff McComsey. It’s playfully metaphorical and different enough to stand out as a soldier narrative that isn’t necessarily about war as much as it is about how the active duty experience is a reality all of its own. It’s a soldier story more than a war story, in the traditional sense.

Another standout story follows a trans soldier navigating toxic masculinity in the military while also trying to survive in an environment where every soldier is expected to be a part of a single, near-homogenous unit. It’s called “Yonder” and it’s written by Annie Blitzen with Aster D’Amico on art. This story has an especially clever visual twist that elevates its storytelling to new heights while not divorcing it in any way from the core interests of the book. It was a delight discovering this story as I read through True War Stories, especially because of its creative quality.

True War Stories

Jonathan Bratten, Eoin Marron, and Dee Cunniffe’s “Merry Christmas, Khaareji!” on the other hand, impresses with its linguistic flair by making the sights and sounds of a military base color the collective experience of Christmas in the Army. Traditional Christmas imagery is brought to the fore via text narration and is then allowed to bleed into the story’s military imagery as soldiers try to celebrate the holiday as bombs fly overhead. It’s an impressive feat that shatters reader expectations and puts them in a different mindset regarding the sounds of war.

The stories mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg on what is an exemplary piece of war literature. The places the stories take readers defy expectations and create new avenues for military storytelling. It’s all in the experience, that great teacher, and True War Stories makes sure it’s an unforgettable one.

Published by Z2 Comics, True War Stories is available now.

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An important contribution to war literature.
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