Review: Pride of Baghdad, Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon

The beginning: Comics are so short when they’re a single volume! This format feels a little silly for such a short comic. But never mind. I like this format and I’m sticking with it unless you beg me to stop. Once upon a time in Pride of Baghdad (Amazon, B&N, Book Depository), there are four lions (three adults and a cub) living in a zoo in Baghdad, and the zoo gets blown up by American bombs. The lions, who have lived in captivity most (or all) of their lives, must learn to fend for themselves in a war-torn Iraq.

The end (highlight blank spaces for spoilers): They all die. Saw that coming.

The whole: Very shiny but not much substance, I thought. The art, by Niko Henrichon, is gorgeous. The full-page spreads are really stunning. I want to find more comics Niko Henrichon has done so I can have more of this beautiful art. Wikipedia claims that Niko Henrichon did a step-by-step guide to making Pride of Baghdad, but the link they provide doesn’t lead to such a guide. Sadly. I would read that guide twice. Look how pretty.

The story, though, seemed thin. This may be another manifestation of my stated fondness for novels over short stories, TV shows over movies. Given more time to develop its themes, Pride of Baghdad could have been really interesting. As it is, it feels rushed and heavy-handed.

I did like the very end though. Not the bit where the lions all get shot, even the baby, but the full-page spreads that follow, which are both beautiful (Niko Henrichon!) and critical, in an economical way, of the casualties of war.

(Do I feel silly putting obvious stuff in spoiler highlights? I do. But the concept of spoilers is so bewildering to me in a fundamental way that it doesn’t feel that different from usual. SPOILERS ARE BETTER.)

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  • I liked this as a quick short read but you are right, not much substance. The trouble with graphic novels like that though, is I would never buy it. I doubt I’d ever revisit it again.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yep, same here. Although I suppose the same is true of a lot of the books I read.

  • SPOILERS ARE BETTER.

    HEAR HEAR! Or, at least, I agree most of the time. Stories are weird. Sometimes stories do work better for me without spoilers and sometimes spoilers make the story SO much better. They’re curious and interesting things.

    Anyway! More on topic! I remember crying when I read this. Obvious ending is obvious and I still sobbed like I never saw it coming. It’s been a couple of years since I read this, though, so I am very fuzzy on the details, alas. And… I don’t know. I think this format works fine for a short graphic novel/comic like this. It just seems to reflect the length of the work you’re discussing, I think?

    • Gin Jenny

      Do you have a sense of what types of stories are more fun for you with spoilers, and what types without? I’m always trying to put this into words for myself and failing. :p

      • It’s definitely hard to put into words! (I’m working on a general post where I tried just that and failed spectacularly too, so I hear you.)

        I think… Spoilers don’t ruin stories for me. They alter the experience of reading them. If I know how a story ends, I pay attention to different things and aspects of a story. So any story which relies heavily on that first-read ignorance is more fun without spoilers because they’ll pack more of a punch that way.

        That… probably doesn’t really help. ^-^; I read a short story a few days ago that’s a decent illustration, though. It’s a story that’s very much concerned with identity and the narrator discovering aspects of their identity. The twist struck me as a prety obvious one, really, but the intimate setting and tone of the piece had me tease out scraps of text to prove (or disprove) my suspicions. If I’d looked up spoilers for that story before reading it, I’d already have the confirmation I was now looking for in the text.

        It’s not the best example, though. That was the only bit of the story I clicked with, so if I’d read spoilers for that I’d have abandoned the story in a heartbeat. That’s not true of all the stories where I find having no spoilers is more fun.

        I think, perhaps, part of it is also a question of how strongly I feel about making up my own mind about a story without reading other people’s thoughts or opinions as much as I can. I’m more inclined to avoid spoilers when I want to form my own opinion without outside influences.

        (And I’m making a ridiculous amount of typos and errors, so I’m going to leave it at that for the night. >> I’m clearly to sleepy for wording deep thoughts.)

  • I thought it was great. Of course I wanted more (and looked for further works by this artist, to no avail) but I wasn’t sorely disappointed, either. By the way, for some reason your spoiler highlights are nonfunctional when I use feedly to read the blog. The text comes through as normal color. Is this a setting I can adjust, I wonder…? and if other readers have the same thing happening?

    • Gin Jenny

      Oh no! I’m so sorry! To everyone. Okay, that’s a good note to have. Do you think it would be okay if instead of saying “highlight blank text for spoilers” I said something like “There will be spoilers in this section”?

      • Well, no great concern here. I actually don’t mind spoilers. I usually read them anyways! But I always give a heads-up at the top of my posts, if I think they might have spoilers others would want to avoid. I never had a problem with them showing through in google reader, just have that issue now with feedly, and haven’t been able to figure out why it does that…

  • anna

    What is your favorite Vaughan? I still giggle when I think of the end of Y the Last Man. Even though I read the first four, then flipped to the end of the last one in the bookstore without reading anything in between.

    • Gin Jenny

      You giggle about it like you thought it was dumb? Or you liked it?

      • anna

        I loved it. It was AWESOME. Probably was not worth a huge however many book buildup, but something in me really loves a joke like that. heheheheheheh.

  • I don’t know much about this book, and I am not much into graphic novels, but I so get the confusion about spoilers.

    I don’t mind spoilers much at all (as long as it is not very obvious one as in reveal about a murderer or something). The question is how do you express your thoughts in a review without spoilers…something always slips out. And what is a spoiler anyway? The definitions vary from person to person.

    I really struggle with spoilers :(. Btw, I like what you do, hiding spoiler text? Do you use some special code, or do you just change the fonts to white?

    • Gin Jenny

      I just change the fonts to white. This was fine in Google Reader but evidently is not fine for Feedly (argh), so I might try to figure out some other way of hiding the spoiler text.

      The level of spoilers varying from person to person is something that I have never figured out how to deal with sensibly. My own tolerance for spoilers is obviously very high indeed, and from that perspective, it can be difficult to calibrate what will be acceptable and not for other people.