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A War Reporter, Adapted in Comics


I’ve been a cartoon character for so long that I’ve begun thinking of my cartoon “self” — that is, the versions of me drawn by artists Steve Olexa, Jonathan Hughes, Matt Bors and others — as, well, not me. That’s the funny thing about writing autobiography, especially autobiographical comics. Do it often enough, and you might forget, in a sense, that you are your subject.

To me, “David Axe” as he appears in War is Boring and other works, is a dude who’s gone to a lot of dangerous places. But he’s not me. Me, I’m just the guy forever sitting in front of his laptop with a mug of lukewarm coffee, typing stuff for obscure magazines for pennies on the hour. That’s emotionally a very useful thing, as I can pour into cartoon David all the bad things I’ve seen, heard and experienced — leaving myself, the real me, the glorified typist, peculiarly unaffected, neutral, empty.

I honestly believe that creating comics is the only reason I’m not permanently disabled by post-traumatic stress. That black-and-white line-drawing of a man — not me — is the guy who’s been shot at, mortared, blown up and kidnapped and who has spent six years surrounded by rape victims, starving refugees and the mutilated, terrorized victims of war. Yes, I know all his stories really well, perfectly even. But they’re still his, not mine.

Comics aren’t just my medium. Comics are why I don’t have nightmares. Comics are why I can be happy. Comics, they protect me and, in that sense, enable me to keep sending cartoon David into new, deadly places, to work, witness and feel in my stead.

If that sounds a bit schizo … well, consider the alternative.

Now I’m better protected than ever, thanks to Jules Rivera, a talented artist I met in San Francisco last month. Jules, one of the artists behind Hard Graft, has drawn “David Axe” in a brand-new, action-hero version (pictured above) — and even adapted that David one step further, into a “fictionalized” version of himself.

Does that mean that cartoon David Axe can sleep peacefully, now, too?

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David Axe

David Axe

David Axe is a freelance war correspondent based in Columbia, S.C. Since 2005 he has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, East Timor, Somalia, Chad, Congo and other conflict zones. His work has appeared in hundreds of magazines and newspapers. His is the author of the graphic novel WAR IS BORING, published in August 2010 by New American Library.