Those of you that have been following me since the beginning know that Terminal Lance started as an underground, risqué, and avant-garde idea. Back in 2010, while I was an active duty Lance Corporal in Hawaii, it was taboo to openly criticize or speak honestly and openly about the Marine Corps in any kind of public forum. However, I put my name on it from day one and I put it out there. It was a risk for me personally, but I knew that as long as I was honest and spoke to my own truth, that I would be okay.
Who would have ever thought that a Lance Corporal that started out drawing funny comics about the Marine Corps would end up on the Commandant’s Reading List.
Years ago, before The White Donkey came out, I had told someone at just an average gathering that I was enlisted and went to Iraq twice. I was expecting a typical reply, the kind we’ve all heard in response to these sorts of open confessions.
“How was it?”
“Was it hot?”
Instead, the reply that I got threw me for a loop. She simply asked me, “What did you learn?”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. No one had ever asked me that. There was so much to that experience. From the day I left to check into MEPS, leaving my home state of Oregon for good, to the day my unit landed in TQ to convoy to Camp Fallujah upon our arrival to Iraq in 2007. All of it was a surreal journey, not just physically, but emotionally.
The White Donkey for me was the ultimate expression of my own truth and personal journey of my enlistment. To me, this wasn’t just a book about my Marine Corps experience, but a distillation of everything I had learned. It is because of this that I chose to make the book a work of fiction. In creating a book that was fictional, I was able to concentrate the lessons learned into a narrative that had story and resolution; which is not always the case with actuality and nonfiction.
The White Donkey is a story of coming of age, of navigating romance and life in the looming shadow of being enlisted, of monotony and tedium, of trauma and depression, and ultimately, of love. It is a story that is as much mine as it is every Marine that has been through it. I created it as a cathartic means of reflection, and with the hope that others could identify with it as well.
In The White Donkey and in all of my work with Terminal Lance, I strive to show that Marines–for as bullheaded and invincible as they may see themselves–are first and foremost human. All of us are inherently flawed beings, created to journey through life and experience fleeting moments that give us meaning.
Despite this, your experience is yours, and yours alone. They can shave your head and force you to stand at attention, to scream and shout your replies to orders, to march covered and aligned with fifty others just like you… But you are still you.
It is truly an honor to have my book, the first graphic novel to ever grace this list, to be considered among such high company. It would have never happened without the support of the audience of Terminal Lance that made it happen.