Finding Peace (2008)
By: Tristan Jones on March 28, 2011  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Art: Nathan St John
Writer: Tom Waltz
Publisher: IDW
I tend to stay away from war comics. Admittedly, I haven't read many, mainly because the ones I have read tend to focus a lot on patriotism and heroics, or they go the other way and become very anti-war, becoming unnecessarily explicit in their depictions of things or overly slap-happy when it comes to forcing a moral point. I will admit, in spite of my adamant curiosity to read this book based on the writer's impressive work on Silent Hill: Past Life the war aspect of it did put me off slightly. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but with so much media focusing on particular points of view of current foreign conflicts, I was a little wary.

Finding Peace is a genuinely impressive war book.

It presents three distinct stories set amidst the conflict of a civil war in an undisclosed country, with the first story broken into several smaller chapters, drawn by Nathan St John and written by ex-marine Tom Waltz.

Now, I'm no expert on war or even the politics behind a lot of modern conflicts. I don't know anyone who's fought in any modern conflicts and with so much of it constantly appearing in the news for most of my life, I think I've actually become desensitised to a point where it'll take me a few days to click on to major developments. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't care, it's just that I'm more personally held by things like the current situation in Japan (a record breaking earthquake tore the country apart, followed by tsunamis and fear of nuclear fallout due to damage caused to nuclear reactors there), as I have family and friends over there. However (yes, there is a point to this minor rant), reading stories like the ones presented in Finding Peace always hit hard, and remind me of just how black or white a number of stories relayed by various media formats are. Finding Peace just tells it like it is, and never feels like it's pushing any kind of agenda, other than maybe providing clarity on the whole notion that all American infantry are jarheads.

One thing people are going to notice straight away is the very rough, sketchpad style of art. It certainly looks harsh and even a little messy at first, but once you sit down and read and really start paying attention to what's being shown, you realise just how incredibly appropriate the art is. There's a strong resemblance to battlefield sketches - art roughed out by those on the frontlines by whatever drawing tools they can carry on whatever paper they have handy. It captures a moment very quickly and gives you all the necessary shape and detail to tell you exactly what's going on without being an intricate Arthur Rackham pen-and-ink masterpiece. It's rough and it's dirty, but it gets its point across very succinctly and manages to invoke the same sense of reality as a photograph.

Admittedly, there are a couple of panels here and there that are a little harder to discern, but in their defence, these moments tend to only happen in more intense situations, which I would assume would be the way these sorts of things would be in reality anyway.

The art never focuses on the grotesque aspects of the conflict, even when the story does, which is something I was thankful for. We are always shown the horrors of war in these sorts of things, like the writer or artist or film maker or whoever has some perverse want to show you every horrendous detail and as much viscera as they can to hammer the message home, but here the focus is on the individuals involved (one young Lance Corporal in particular). Two particularly well played moments come to mind, one involving a riot that gets out of hand, the other involving the discovery of mass graves. We see what we need to see and the impact is much stronger. There's also a great, eye-opening moment where two marines are reading the mail they've received, and one responds to something said by an academic friend back home.

The first two stories flow together very well, and it wasn't until the third and final story that I realised these were playing out chronologically backwards. In fact, it wasn't until the second read through that I realised the second story was actually separate from the first, as they flowed together very well thematically. Both stories do an excellent job of presenting the emotional effects of battle on those involved as "peacekeepers" and actually surprised me a bit when it came to the individual commentary on key moments of the book presented by the interior monologues (through which virtually the entire thing is told).

The third story in the book switches sides and presents the story of a young woman caught in the conflict between both the factions involved in the civil war and those involving foreign forces. While very well told, I found I had a harder time connecting to this story. It's a solid chapter in itself and one that needs to be told, I actually found myself wanting more of the anecdotal stuff presented by those in the peacekeeping forces. I think I'd've preferred the last story be expanded upon even more and saved for a follow-up of sorts. When it came, I was actually kinda disappointed -- you're never left unsatisfied by the stories, you just want it to keep going. I was really drawn in by this Lance Corporal we'd been following and what he was seeing.

The book itself is three years old, as of this review, so it's not easy to find in stores, but you can pick it up on Amazon and I'm sure some local comic shops will be able to order it in for you as well (I found it at one of my own locals for $15 AUD). It's well worth checking out, especially if you are like me and tend to hold war books at an arm's length, and if it is something that interests you then I'm sure there's plenty of stuff here you'll find well worth your time.
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