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Pride of Baghdad


From one of America's most acclaimed comics writers -- a startlingly original look at life on the streets of Baghdad during the Iraq War inspired by true events. In his award-winning work on Y: The Last Man, Volume 10: Whys and Wherefores and Ex Machina #28 (one of Entertainment Weekly's 2005 ten best fiction titles), writer Brian K. Vaughan has displayed an understanding of both the cost of survival and the political nuances of the modern world. Now, in this provocative graphic novel, Vaughan examines life on the streets of war-torn Iraq. The experience is made all the more evocative by the lush, spectacular artwork of Niko Henrichon.

In the spring of 2003, a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad Zoo during an American bombing raid. Lost and confused, hungry but free, the four lions roamed the decimated streets of Baghdad in a desperate struggle for their lives. In documenting the plight of the lions, Pride of Baghdad raises questions about the true meaning of liberation -- can it be given, or is it earned only through self-determination and sacrifice? And in the end, is it truly better to die free than to live life in captivity?

Based on a true story, Vaughan and Henrichon have created a unique and heartbreaking window into the nature of life during wartime, illuminating this struggle as only the graphic novel can.


The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo): "...ultimately, Pride of Baghdad is not a story meant to provide answers, but to stir thoughts. And in successfully doing that, it shows just how powerful the graphic novel format can be."

The York Dispatch (Pennsylvania): "Sure, the lions talk with one another and other animals, but there aren't any 'Hakuna Matata' moments in Pride of Baghdad. Instead, this is a story about illusions and bitter truths. It's a battle of raw nature against human violence and insensitivity. In that sense, Pride of Baghdad seems to channel works such as Watership Down: A Novel and The Plague Dogs."


Brian K. Vaughan took a half hour on a Saturday afternoon recently to speak with me from his home in West Hollywood about his latest graphic novel. I asked if he was a native Californian. "I'm originally from Cleveland, Ohio. Then I lived in New York for about ten years. I was an NYU Film School nerd. My wife went to grad school at UCSD, so we lived in San Diego up until just a couple of months ago. We had planned to move back to New York, but Hollywood stuff sort of popped up, so we sold out and are now doing our time in Los Angeles.""What was your experience, as a kid, with comics?"

"It started, I imagine, like most kids, with my parents bringing me home a couple of issues of Spider-Man when I was home sick one day. I think at first I didn't really understand them. I thought they were an activity book, where the panels were meant to be cut out and put in a certain order. I still have photos of me as a kid cutting out valuable early issues of Amazing Spider-Man and pasting them next to panels from Battlestar Galactica comics."

"Does that hurt to see?"

"A little bit, I guess. But it's also fun to see the formative years of a comic-book creator. I guess from the beginning I was trying to make my own."

"When did you first encounter a graphic novel?"

"Everyone's definition of a graphic novel is different, but if you count the collection of individual comics, that was probably when I was 12. We were on a family road trip, and I bought Watchman at a comic-book store and read it in one sitting in the back of the family van on the ride home to Ohio. That was the first time that I recognized there was a creative hand behind these characters. I was immediately obsessed and knew I wanted to write comic books for a living."

"What's it like to get to do, as an adult, what you dreamt of doing as a child?"

"It is pretty surreal. There's nothing quite like that moment when your first check with Spider-Man on it arrives. I think that will always be the benchmark for me. There are still times when I walk into a comic-book store and, when I see my name, I sometimes wonder if I'm in a coma and this is sort of a Matrix world that my brain has created to keep myself going. It's hard to believe."

"Pride of Baghdad is based on real events. When did you first hear about the escaped lions?"

"In 2003, I had two different ideas for two subjects I wanted to do comic books about. I wanted to do an anthropomorphized animal comic. It sounds strange, but comic books have a pretty great tradition of doing talking-animal books -- whether it's Scrooge McDuff or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles , all the way up to Maus . It's something comics have always done particularly well, and I thought it would be a good genre in which to push myself to do something unlike anything I'd done before.

"On the other hand, I also wanted to do a book about the then-impending Iraq war and my conflicted feelings about it.

"I'd never thought of combining the two, but then there was a brief news story from an overseas news outlet talking about a pride of four lions who had escaped a Baghdad zoo after it had been shelled open. They were released into the wild streets of Baghdad during the initial invasion of 2003. As soon as I read about it, the two ideas melded in my mind and Pride of Baghdad was born."

"What further research did you have to do?"

"I'm a research junkie, so I took a two-pronged attack. One, I found out as much about lions as possible -- about their behavior -- to try and accurately reflect what their personality might be like if they could communicate in a human fashion. More importantly, I tried to learn as much about Iraq as possible. Not just what Baghdad is like currently, but the history of the region. I wanted to talk about that area throughout history through the eyes of different characters.

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