Saturday, July 19, 2008

Unknown Soldier preview via Newsarama

Newsarama has a preview of the new Unknown Soldier series from Vertigo, written by Joshua Dysart, with art by Alberto Ponticelli. Read the press release article here. Billed as an "all new interpretation," I assume this iteration of Unknown Soldier will be closer to the Unknown Soldier of the 80's (revisited a few years back by Garth Ennis) than the Unknown Soldier that was originally conceived by Joe Kubert for Star Spangled War Stories. See wikipedia article.

I am quite looking forward to this book, as I thoroughly enjoyed the cynicism and vitriol of Ennis' version of the character. The story, centering on the political strife in Uganda circa 2002, looks like it has a lot of potential.

Here is the 5 page preview.

This preview sets the stage for what could be a very ambitious, engaging story, capable of bringing a number of very important issues to light in an entertaining way. However, I do take some issue with the script. Take a look at page two, panel two, where the translator says "The child, he say he walk to look for jack fruit in the bush. He say he find rebels, but he got away." I can tell the writer was going for a modest, but dignified, type of dialogue, but the incorrect subject verb agreement gives a connotation of ignorance that doesn't do much to authenticate the setting for me. Also, shouldn't the "Doctors!" (in panel one of the same page) be to indicate that another language is being spoken? An oversight like that creates the illusion of an even wider social divide between the Doctor and the people she is helping.

Script issues, or no, I'll be taking a closer look at this series.

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Joshua said...

Hey, thanks for blogging about my book! I'm really excited to see it hit the stands.

About the language issue... I spent a month in Northern Uganda with some of that time spent on several IDP camp (where the scene in the preview takes place). I came to know many of the internally displaced people, several war affected children, several child soldiers (some trained in Sudan) and a couple of the NGO doctors who serve them.

There are multiple languages spoken in Acholiland. First and foremost, the language of Uganda is English, however, out there mostly you'll find Acholi, Lango and several other local dialects of Lao (or Lwo, the spelling varies). The old man's speak is taken directly form the way several of the people I spoke with talked. They learned english themselves from prolonged exposer to Bagandans from Southern Uganda and western NGO doctors. There speach is compromised but understandable. The boys who scream "Doctors" do in fact speak Acholi. However they would have, due to massive exposure to NGO workers (Northern Uganda has one of the largest NGO concentrations in all the world), and there Acholi tends to be mixed with English (many children speak English quite well there - this was, after all, a British protectorate and English is everywhere - even in the rural camps).

Kids like this deal with these doctors on a daily basis. The high disease rate and awful conditions of the camps they are forced to live in, many of the camps supporting tens of thousands of people with no running water, makes their contact with the NGO doctors a constant part of their life. I made the decission that "Doctor" is a word they would pick up and use as a form of address to Sera and Moses (the two characters from Kampala in that scene).

I've been seeing quite a few assumptions on the net about the culture of Northern Uganda since this preview came out (with yours even using the word "ignorant" - heh), so I'm excited for the book to come out and to have the fuller vision in people's hands so they can judge more appropriately just how we've handled the cultural divide. We will no doubt make mistakes. It's inevitable, a month among a people does not a native make, however, careful what conclusions you leap to. We're doing our homework to the best of our abilities.

Peace, I hope you like the book when it hits!

- Joshua Dysart

Joshua said...

Ooops, I see know what you meant by the use of the word "ignorant"... apologies, please strike that snide aside from the previously sent comment. Sorry!

Ian Thomas said...

Thanks for elaborating, Josh! It's nice to see that this is being read. Perhaps I spoke a bit harshly.

First and foremost, it's rare to see such intensive research going into comics. I think that's great. In retrospect, I guess my complaint could be of the limitations of the medium, itself.

As you point out, mistakes are bound to be made. You are in uncharted territory here, I believe. Criticism aside, you are opening up an important dialogue here and should be commended.

Joshua said...

I hope you still feel that way when the book hits.

It's been very difficult crafting this thing. On the one hand, I really want to tell an enjoyable narrative, I mean, this is a war book with a strong pulp tradition, and I can't ignore that. On the other hand the complexities of this conflict and region, my love for the people and the place (all compounded by going there and humanizing the affair), all of this has made every embellishment, every slight fictionalization, every pulp manipulation, a difficult battle. Whether, in the end, we succeed at both the entertainment and the meaning is up to you.

The point you make about the limitations of the medium are extremely valid. We have a fantastic letterer, Clem Robins. Guy deserves an Eisner as of about five years ago. Anyway, he created a font to represent acholi, so that every time you see that font, hopefully the reader will understand that they're speaking in acholi (however we often have characters speaking phrases in Luganda as well, which I'm sure will cause no end of confusion - we flat out ignored kiswahili, just too much for our readers to take) yet still I feel the need to somehow tell the reader that this is the Acholi language these people are speaking. It's tricky.

Plus, after all of this, let's face it. I'm an occidental. The Ugandan culture is nothing like western culture and the odds of me imposing some personal cultural edict or romantizing the people, even in the smallest of ways, are almost inevitable. But I try to stay conscious of my creative decisions and just do the best I can.

And Alberto Ponticelli... our awesome artist... he's working from over 1400 photographs I took on the trip, so the book looks authentic as hell.

Thanks for talking about it and spreading the word, and for your enthusiasm. You weren't too harsh, good healthy criticism is absolutely necessary if we want comics to be the best they can be. Plus, look at the dialog it started!

Hope your Sunday is working out as planned.