GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES ISSUE #2: ENTER THE TALIBAN

Newsarama is running an exclusive 6 page preview of some pages of GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES Issue #2, which is in stores TOMORROW, Wednesday, August 24 2011.

Notice I said 6 page preview rather than the usual “5 page preview” or even “the first 6 pages”.

That’s in part because there’s 25 pages of story (still for the low price of $2.99).  At least 3 more pages of story than you’d get from most books that charge more.

It’s also because I decided not to show the 1st 5 pages in sequence.  Why?

We open issue 2 by cutting back and forth between Marines fighting zombies in the present, and flashbacks that give an “origin story” for some of the Taliban who will start to take more of a role in the comics.

I thought it made more sense to present the Taliban sequence without interruption. 

That means there’s still plenty of this to see:

(For you enterprising comic book journalists, bloggers etc…that means that there are 5 pages of Marines on Zombie action we are willing to give you an exclusive on - just contact me here or dm me at twitter - I’m @marksable).

To get back to the Taliban, there were a lot of thorny issues to deal with.

The first was - most coalition troops in Afghanistan never see the enemy they are fighting up close.  Fighting is done at greater distances than in videogames like say, Call of Duty: Black Ops.  Much of that fighting is done at night, and the Taliban blend into the civilian populace.

So, despite the fact our Marines come under sustained assault by the Taliban twice in the first issue, Paul and I made a conscious (and I think, risky decision) not to show the enemy on panel. 

(Although those of you who re-read the first issue after reading the second might notice that the Taliban we “introduce” in the Issue 2 are amongst the civilians the Marines deal with in Issue 1)

The bigger challenge was - how do we depict of The Taliban? As a writer, I needed to make them, if not likable, at least somewhat relatable.  Meaning human beings whose motives a reader can understand, if not root for.  After all, I’ve teased that they may be teaming up with the Marines to take on the real enemy, the undead.

Make no mistake, despite what some right wing comics bloggers (there’s a niche if there has ever been one) have said - I don’t like the Taliban.  They’ve hurt countless innocents, badly wounded veterans I’ve had the privilege of getting to know, and harbored and/or acted in concert with terrorists who have killed people I’ve cared deeply about.

But the Taliban don’t fit neatly into our perceived notions of them as mindless religious fanatics.  Their tribal culture - Pashtunwali - often plays more of a role than Islam.  The drug trade often plays a bigger role than either.  They are a hybrid of a terror organization, an insurgent movement and a drug cartel.

You may ask, how do I know all this?  Researching the Taliban was the hardest part of making this comic.  The Taliban are more likely to behead journalists than speak to them.

I’ve mentioned before that the late photo journalist and war correspondent Tim Hetherington helped point me in the right direction in this area. He was the Academy Award nominated director of the documentary Restrepo, the best film I’ve seen on Afghanistan in particular and on modern warfare in general.

I’ve been thinking about Tim a lot this week.  Not just because of this issue, which directly benefited from his help and his life’s work.  But also because he was killed covering the conflict in Libya.  As I write this Gadafhi’s government is falling, and I wish Tim were alive to bring that to us in a way no one else could.

Without revealing sources and methods, Tim wasn’t the only person who helped Paul and I in researching the Taliban.  The best thing I was pointed to was a series of interviews with actual Taliban fighters.  The only way the Canadian journalist Graeme Smith was able to safely do so was by having his Afghan researcher go out and ask a series of very basic questions to them with a handheld camera.

He couldn’t touch on things like Al Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden without the natives getting restless.  But you get the idea that ideology is not their primary motivation. Don’t just take my word for it, the interviews are fascinating. 

The goal of spending countless hours researching the hell out of the Taliban was to create as accurate a portrayal of the Taliban as we’ve seen in comics.  That, and to tell an entertaining story.

I hope all the work Paul and I put into bringing the Taliban to life (and un-life) om Issue 2 has paid off.  I’m looking forward to hearing whether you think we’ve pulled it off.