Tag Archives: iraq

Review: Yasmeen #2

Yasmeen #2
Yasmeen #2, Scout Comics

Saif Ahmed’s and Fabiana Mascolo’s Yasmeen is in many respects a story about the painful process behind coming of age. Focusing on a girl (the titular Yasmeen) living during the ISIS invasion of Mosul, Iraq first and then years later as a refugee in America, the comic is nothing short of a visceral exploration of how unfair and even profoundly violent change can be.

This is made clear in the first issue of the six-part series. The second entry of the story dives deeper into these ideas, but it takes the opportunity to say something different about coming-of-age stories: they’re not universal.

A staple of YA literature, the coming-of-age story deals in transformation, maturity, and acceptance, all brought upon by a particular set of internal and external challenges. It’s such a flexible narrative template that it’s easy to apply to different types of characters going through a variety of self-identity trials. The emphasis is on seeing how characters grow up and how they accept themselves for who they are, imperfections and all.

Yasmeen’s take on this puts the focus on context and the uniqueness of its circumstances. Growing up during an invasion only to migrate to another country and face the stereotypes and misconceptions of one’s own culture from other groups of people is quite simply on a level all of its own. It’s unique and hard to relate to if the reader does not share in the same experience, or has at very least experienced something similar to it. And yet, what makes this story special is that it wants to help readers understand it, regardless of difficulty.

Yasmeen #2 is where the series hits its stride with its simultaneous approach to storytelling. Yasmeen looks to settle into a normal in her new American life in the present timeline while trying to survive in her new role as wife to a man that acquired her after being separated from the family in the past timeline. The exchange between both timelines is relentless, but it is serves a purpose. In Yasmeen coming of age is a constant, never a phase one can conquer and then move on. It leaves scars.

Yasmeen #2, Scout Comics

For Yasmeen, the memories of the past compromise her ability to adapt to the present. But the present brings challenges of its own. She is surrounded by kids of her same age going through their own coming-of-age woes, but their experiences are worlds apart and reconciling those differences is proving quite the challenge. The book’s art captures this with uncomfortable clarity and inventiveness.

Fabiana Mascolo again does an excellent job of dealing with traumatic imagery without being explicit. The lead up to violence or images of abuse is tense and uncomfortable but knows precisely when to change gears into other sequences. It’s also worth mentioning that Mascolo’s facial expressions tell stories of their own. They invite close study to get the most out every character.

The script deftly raises the intensity between the two timelines in this issue, making for a harder-hitting issue than the first one. Things move faster and the terrors of the past face stronger competition from the struggles of student life in America. The change in environments are skillfully managed and always manage to keep each time period in conversation with one another. There’s a sequence in which Yasmeen is surrounded by ghostly images of the ISIS takeover while walking down her school’s cafeteria that is something to behold. It’s deeply haunting and it captures the spirit of the book perfectly.

The second issue of Yasmeen braves unsettling and rough terrains, full of terrible things. But as is the case with the first issue, hope still manages to carve out some space for itself. There’s a lot of darkness still, but the promise of light at the end of the tunnel is there. I don’t expect that light to be all-powerful or all-healing, but I’m intrigued as to what it offers to Yasmeen.

Story: Saif Ahmed Art: Fabiana Mascolo
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0
Recommendation: Buy and then read Graphic Policy’s interview with the writer.

Scout Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Purchase: Scout Comics Store

Interview: Saif Ahmed on how his comic YASMEEN explores living with the scars of extremist violence

Saif A. Ahmed
Saif Ahmed, writer of Yasmeen

Saif A. Ahmed is a writer that understands the human mind is more than capable of crafting its own horrors even when provided with as little information as possible. This is evident in his approach to violence and trauma in his comic Yasmeen, a story about an Iraqi family’s experience with violent extremism in Mosul, Iraq, and how its memory follows them when they relocate to the United States.

It’s a brutal comic, but the truly terrifying aspects of it lie in what Ahmed leaves up to the reader’s imagination. In this regard, it’s one of the most educational comics on recent Iraqi history available today and I can’t recommend it enough.

Horror is a powerful educational tool. It goes beyond fact to take a proper stab at understanding an event or an experience. In other words, it’s intimate. Yasmeen deeply subscribes to this idea, but it does so by largely concerning itself with the conflictive act of remembering that characterizes trauma.

Yasmeen centers on the titular character, a 16-year-old girl who is captured by ISIS and is then thrust into slavery at the hands of a man that takes complete control of her life, in all aspects of it. It is revealed that Yasmeen and her family manage to leave Iraq to become refugees in America years later. The comic alternates between the two time periods to capture the horrors of the past and the struggles of the present.

Ahmed’s scripts are unafraid to venture into the violence and abuse Yasmeen lived through in the past, but it rarely indulges in gratuity or graphic imagery. The reader is informed on the things that happen to her and the story moves on.

Yasmeen #1
From Yasmeen #1, by Saif Ahmed and Fabiana Mascolo

Artist Fabiana Mascolo perfectly captures the implicit nature of the storytelling and knows how much should or shouldn’t be shown for the narrative to work. It’s a strategy often employed in the best horror stories, the kind that prioritize dread and tension over explicit shots of gore and death to keep the audience’s attention.

Whatever human horrors Yasmeen conjures up in its story, however, are met with a refreshingly humble and realistic sense of hope. There’s something to be said about the will to survive as presented in this comic and it’s important readers experience it. It’s where the story gathers its teachings and invites true understanding.

Graphic Policy sat down with writer Saif Ahmed (via email) to discuss the comic and the various elements that went into the creation of such a harrowing but hopeful story about memory and survival.

Ricardo Serrano: Yasmeen is a book with a lot to say and a lot to teach. It’s curious that despite the recent history of Iraq and the Middle East we still seem to know very little about the actual dynamics behind the events that have taken place there. What are you hoping Yasmeen can bring to the conversation in terms of understanding the things that have happened in Mosul through an Iraqi family’s experience of them? 

Yasmeen #3, by Saif Ahmed and Fabiana Mascolo

Saif A. Ahmed: As a storyteller, my first concern was to tell the best engaging story possible. On top of that I aimed to draw attention to the victims who are still affected by the war. These are people who were living normal peaceful lives, then suddenly they were faced with a pure evil force that subjected them to unimaginable horrors. And while ISIS is almost defeated now and the world has moved on, the survivors still carry emotional and physical scars that will stay with them for rest of their lives. Now I am in no way trying to preach or make the reader feel bad, I myself avoid listening to the depressing news of the world but I do wish to help change how Arabs and immigrants are perceived by simply telling the story of a teenage Iraqi girl and her family from their own prospective. 

Serrano: One of the things I found interesting about the book as that it doesn’t hold the reader’s hand throughout the story. Not everything is explained in a clear cut manner, as is the case with the conflict’s factions and the ideas they uphold. Yet, it still gets its point across. What was the thought process behind this approach? 

Ahmed: Well, the first rule of storytelling is “show don’t tell!” I didn’t want to feed the readers a ton of information (this is the best way to lose them). I rather show glimpses of the long and deadly conflict through the characters’ interactions as if the readers are witnessing engaging high-stakes debates. The fake checkpoint (that’s what we call the infamous terrorist checkpoints in Iraq) sequence for instance was an important scene for me because I once was stopped by a terrorist group that were looking for people from my sect of Islam. I was lucky that I didn’t get caught but if I had, I wish to think that I would’ve been brave enough to say to them what Yasmeen‘s uncle says in the sequence. 

Serrano: Despite the horrors Yasmeen guides readers through, actual instances of violence are treated with restraint and inventiveness. It leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination. What led to the decision to keep things implicit and not graphic? 

Ahmed: I wasn’t interested in the violence itself but rather its influence on the victims. The whole point of the story is that violent acts stay with us long after they take place. Violence is not glamorous in real life. It’s horrifying. The best artists in the world won’t be able to convey that as good as the human imagination. 

Serrano: I’m curious as to the books, movies, experiences, games, etc. that inspired you in the process of scripting Yasmeen. Was there anything you looked that you definitely wanted to be present in the story? Any other things you were consciously aware of that you didn’t want in the story?

Yasmeen #2
Yasmeen #2, by Saif Ahmed and Fabiana Mascolo

Ahmed: I based the story off my life in Iraq/US and the horrible real-life events that the people in Mosul lived through. But as a writer I learned a lot of storytelling techniques like the use of subtext and themes from great TV shows like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and Mad Men. As for the second part of your question, I definitely didn’t want my story to be told through the eyes of the usual western outsider protagonist. A lot of them like to turn Arab characters into clichés. I aimed to demonstrate that, even though we might have different traditions, most of us wish to live peacefully just like any other person in the world. 

Serrano: While the book deals with trauma head-on and without restraint, to its success, there’s something interesting in how the story alternates between past (Mosul, Iraq) and present (America). Why was it important to show Yasmeen’s experience and interactions in America via these time jumps? 

Ahmed: That’s how Yasmeen is living. She’s in two places at the same time. Her body is in the US but her mind is still living in the past. Telling the story within two time periods progressing alongside each other combined with Fabiana’s amazing art put the reader right in Yasmeen‘s mind without the need of thought bubbles or unnecessary exposition.

Serrano: What’s coming up after Yasmeen? You looking to expand on the story or are you moving on to different projects? 

Ahmed: It took me more than two years to make Yasmeen. I had the idea for it four years ago. These six issues will come to a satisfying end for Yasmeen‘s arc. And while I have few ideas to take the characters into a new arc, I will probably let it marinate for now and move on to one of the many other ideas that I have. I actually just shared my “vault of ideas” with Fabiana the other day in the hopes that we can work together again. 

Around the Tubes

Tetris_BoxshotIt was new comic book day yesterday. What’d folks get? What’d you enjoy? What was a stinker? Sound off in the comments!

Up first though, here’s some news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.

Around the Tubes

Comics Alliance – In Defense Of T-Shirt Superman: Why ‘Action Comics’ And ‘Superman’ Are Seriously Great Right Now – Thoughts? Agree? Disagree?

The Beat – Coca Cola and Marvel are teaming up for the Super Bowl – Not too surprising.

Kotaku – Peek Inside the New Graphic Novel That Tells The Origin Story Of Tetris – This sounds cool.

Humanosphere – Graphic novel depicts life as an aid worker in Iraq – Again, awesome to see this.

The Guardian – African Avengers: the comic book creators shaking up superhero genre – Lots of comics to check out!


Around the Tubes Reviews

Talking Comics – Batman: Europa #1-4

Talking Comics – Bizarro TPB

Talking Comics – Kennel Block Blues #1

Talking Comics – Mirror #1

Comic Vine – Nailbiter #20

Talking Comics – Paper Girls Vol. 1

Comic Vine – Spider-Man #1

Newsarama – Spider-Man #1\

Comic Vine – Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin #2

Comic Vine – Uncanny Avengers #5

Comic Vine – Unfollow #4

Talking Comics – Voracious #1

Nisoor Square Shootings: Interactive Comics Journalism

Official Press Release

Today Cartoon Movement publishes a groundbreaking work of comics journalism by Dan Archer. “The Nisoor Square Shootings” is a multimedia comic that allows readers to move through a real-life event, seeing things as they unfolded from multiple perspectives.


In September of 2007, employees of the military contractor Blackwater killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, sparking international outrage. Charges against Blackwater were controversially dismissed and the incident drew attention to the role contractors play in the Iraq War perhaps more than any other.

Based on eyewitness testimony, photo references, and numerous reports, Archer recreated the time line of the shooting, breaking down the chaotic events into an accessible multimedia comic that showcases the power and capability of graphic journalism on the web.

About Cartoon Movement

Cartoon Movement was launched in 2011 as a publishing platform for international editorial cartoons and comics journalism. The site has published work from artists in over 50 countries and is edited by Tjeerd Royaards and Matt Bors.

About Dan Archer

Dan Archer specializes in graphic narratives on U.S. politics, history, and human rights. He was the 2010-11 Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford and author of several works of comics journalism. His work has been published by Random House, Alternet, The Guardian UK, The Huffington Post, and translated into several different languages.

The Right Blindly Attacks Sarah Glidden’s The Waiting Room

Bookmark and Share

Sarah Glidden who has used graphic narrative to explore her own thoughts on being Jewish and traveling to Israel for Birthright has focused on Iraqi refugees displaced since the recent war in Iraq and now reside in Syria in The Waiting Room.  The 20 page web comic is fairly balanced focusing on the hurdles of the refugees.  In Syria, they are not allowed to hold jobs, but many are educated and have skills they can bring to the workforce.  At the same time their status as refugees remains in limbo, forcing them to rely on the slow processes of international efforts to gain basic necessities such as food and education.

What a shock in the usual culprit over at The Astute Blogger Avi Green saw this as an opportunity to attack Glidden for her reporting and also not bother to fact check any of his incorrect opinions.  Right off the bat Green labels Glidden as a “would-be” graphic novelist, demeaning her first piece of work, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less.  I thought her first piece of major work was excellent, giving it an overall 10 in the review.  She’s not a “would-be,” she is a graphic novelist.  That remark coming from a “would-be” journalist like Green is downright unnecessary and petty like much of his attacks.

I’m also not quite sure Green has read her work, as he calls it a “a negative stance on Zionism.”  The graphic novel is anything but.  Instead Glidden admits going into the story she expects a hard core stance by her Birthright guides and that she comes from a more left perspective.  Her views by the end are different than going in, as she comes out with a greater understanding of the situation in Israel.  It’s actually quite a positive depiction of Israel.

Green begins to dissect and attack the work at hand, and as usual throws out factually incorrect statements that simple Google searches debunk.  His first issue is Glidden’s commentary on the Iraqi educational system is this panel.

Green has this to say:

Really, was it that solid in education? Saddam lived and died a Muslim, holding a Koran at his trial, and his government run universities would most likely have incorporated the Religion of Peace and anti-Israelist education into their curriculum (one of the other panels at the political cartoon site says the colleges were free, which sounds vaguely similar to the notions some communists/marxists/socialists have of how to do things). I’m not sure you can call that solid stuff. Nor can a religion/education/political system that calls for jihad, oppression of women, and considers Jews “sons of apes and pigs” be something to learn from. And why do I get the vibe these refugees wouldn’t give a crap about how Saddam fired scud missiles at Israel back in 1991, causing plenty of people, myself included, to have to hide in airtight rooms?

A simple search online actually reveals the facts.  According to UNESCO prior to the 1991 Gulf War ” Iraq had one of the best educational performances in the region. Primary school Gross Enrollment Rate was 100% and literacy levels were high.”  Since the war with Iran and especially after the 1991 Gulf War, education has slid and declined.  However, they are still considered an educated populace.

Green also shows his blind hatred of any sort of left philosophy calling the Iraq free college education “vaguely similar to the notions some communists/marxists/socialists have of how to do things.”  I guess Green also is against the free primary education here in the United States.  I do wonder if hey actually thinks through his hypocrisy or just slings out the bullshit without even thinking.  Free education exists in many countries throughout the world and in non-communist/marxist/socialist nations like Australia and Brazil.  In Australia and Brazil that does include college education.  But again, a simple Google search would have allowed Green to do real journalism.  Not the “would-be” type he practices.

But really Green’s blind hatred for Iraq and Iraqi’s is present in this telling line:

And why do I get the vibe these refugees wouldn’t give a crap about how Saddam fired scud missiles at Israel back in 1991, causing plenty of people, myself included, to have to hide in airtight rooms?

His criticism as shown in that quote has nothing to do with facts or the story as presented, it’s his absolute hatred for Iraqis.  Green seems to forget back in 1991 there was a war that raged in the Gulf that forced allies to band together a remove Saddam from the invaded Kuwait.  Those attacks were part of that war.  That’s just a fact.  I’m sorry he needed to hide in an airtight room as the allies bombed Iraq as well.

But lets continue to dissect and disarm Green’s fantasy land attack.  He then goes on in his rant of a blog post calling the web comic “propaganda” citing this panel.

Green has this to say:

So the woman drawn in the panel blames America for her misfortunes, not Saddam for the oppression, nor the terrorists who went on a rampage after the US raid. Perhaps she might want to consider that nearly a decade ago, when the raid took place, there were terrorists going through Syria to get to Iraq, and Syria helped and encouraged many to do so. But she probably won’t. The 7th panel at the political cartoon site has the interviewee saying, “America set fire to my country and we lost everything”. Not exactly. There is a legitimate case that could be made that the US military didn’t do a good enough job at defeating the invading terrorists properly at the beginning, and this is what led to their misfortunes. But it appears she’s only blaming America for invading in the first place, and not the jihadists who crossed through Syria into Iraq. What, they don’t have any responsibility?

What Green leaves out is this panel:

Clearly there are Iraqis who have no problem with America, especially if they’re moving here or receiving their education from American universities as this web comic tells.  The above is an absolute misrepresentation of what’s presented by leaving out further panels.

But again Green shows off his hypocrisy.  He rages against, and clearly hates Iraqis for their attack against Israel as part of the 1991 Gulf War.  But when an Iraqi shows distrust and dislikes the United States for bombing their country, that’s not ok.  Pretty sure there’s something up with that logic there.

But he seems to be mixing up what people are talking about.  In his “logical” response about someone’s dislike of the United States due to the second Gulf War, Green takes a divergent discussion bringing up terrorists and jihadists invading from Syria.  One has nothing to do with the other.  This next part is brilliance by Green:

“America set fire to my country and we lost everything”. Not exactly.

So were you there Avi?  Did you see the bombs fall?  It’s kind of hard to say that this didn’t occur.  We bombed that country, infrastructure was destroyed, people lost lives, it happened.  How did it “not exactly” happen?  Because we didn’t do a good enough job of beating the shit out of the nation.  Green goes on “There is a legitimate case that could be made that the US military didn’t do a good enough job at defeating the invading terrorists properly at the beginning, and this is what led to their misfortunes.”  Green actually advocates for blowing more things up.  So I guess his “not exactly” was more in reference to the refugee’s statement of “lost everything” and the United States military could have actually destroyed more.

Green then takes issue with an article by Comic Beat on this work by Glidden:

Glidden is definitely following in the footsteps of the incomparable Joe Sacco in becoming a graphic reporter on the trouble spots of the world. While there’s only one Sacco, Glidden is finding her own place in the field with her work.

Avi spends the rest of the post beating up on Sacco who at times does take a side in his “graphic reporting.”  While the Comic Beat is just stating the fact that like Sacco, Glidden is using graphic novels as a way to report and depict real world events, Green takes it more personal (he really hates Sacco) as if Glidden has the same stances or beliefs as Sacco:

When they start comparisons with a foul fiend like Sacco, something is wrong.


And back to Glidden now, it’s tragic that the artform of comics is being abused by such loathsome people to attack Israel and America. I wonder if her next destination will be to attack the Israeli army (which I served in when I was 19-21, even if it was only in supplies duties)? She is just as bad news as Sacco.

Say what you will about Sacco’s work, the only comparison that two have is they both cover the Middle East and both use graphic journalism to tell their tales.  Their view points are divergent.  But again, Green’s attacks on Sacco are telling.  Green clearly has issues with free speech and viewpoints that aren’t his own.

Green is a Zionist, he doesn’t believe that people called “Palestinian” exist.  When that’s the viewpoint you take, it’s hard to hear the opinion, take or viewpoint of anyone else.  And as long as Green presents misleading statements, lies stated as facts and uncalled for attacks, I’ll be here to call his bullshit.

Sarah Glidden’s The Waiting Room

Bookmark and Share

Sarah Glidden, who tackled the subject of Israel in the excellent graphic novel How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less has published a twenty page web comic called The Waiting Room.  The web comic looks at Iraqi refugees who now call Syria home.

Syria is home to the world’s largest urban refugee population; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have poured in since the 2003 invasion. Barred from joining the Syrian workforce, they attempt to navigate bureaucratic hurdles and find a new place to call home. Sarah Glidden, with contributing reporting from the Common Language Project, give us a window into their lives.

You can check out the web comic at Cartoon Movement.

Navy Turns to Graphic Novel to Help With Stress

Bookmark and Share

The DocsThe Navy has turned to graphic novels to help hospital corpsmen cope with stress due to war and combat deployments.  The Docs: A Graphic Novel focuses on four characters deployed as corpsmen in Iraq.  Developed for the Navy Medicine‘s Care for the Caregiver program the story is based on what real corpsmen and Marines face in combat and their personal experiences.  The Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) in San Diego developed the book.

Heidi Kraft, a clinical psychologist at the NHRC said:

Many of them are asked to play these dual roles, to function as one of that line unit but when someone is hurt, they are immediately turned to the caregiver role… Data shows our expeditionary corpsmen are struggling with a lot of these issues, and certainly that is not a surprise.” Kraft is also a former lieutenant commander and author of a war memoir, “Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital.

The goal was to find a way to get through and provide a training tool for the corpsmen and they felt graphic novels and comic books were popular with that age group.

You can read the graphic novel online here.

Iraqi Science Fiction

Bookmark and Share

Over at The Comics Journal, Kent Worcester has a fascinating look at Iraqi science fiction imagery.  The Children’s Culture House of Iraq in the 1980’s published pamphlets to teach astronomy, space exploration, the frontiers of science, etc.  The pamphlets were in the clear if they steered clear of political themes and focused on the science.

The article goes on further to cover Salih Habeeb who was involved with the project as well as shows off imagery from the pamphlets and Habeeb’s work.  Below is one example of what you can find.  Pretty interesting stuff.

The Time Gap Novel by Salih Habeeb cover

Iraq and Afghanistan Charity Graphic Novel

When doing some searches for rss feeds to keep up on news I came across a website that is attempting to put together a charity graphic novel to benefit United States troops.

The graphic novel would use real world stories brought to life on the page and drawn by various artists.  It’s just another example of real world history being recorded through the comics medium.

« Older Entries