I'm sharing this for a few reasons.
This was done for an anthology called "Untold Tales of Iraq and Afghanistan" - which was an anthology comic or graphic novel as some people like to call them, to benefit the families of veterans lost or injured during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I was contacted by Clayton Murwin, the man who put countless hours and effort into making this book a reality about taking part - the gist of the creative side of the project was that stories from troops themselves would be adapted into comics scripts by various writers and then Clayton and his dedicated team of volunteers would create the comic itself based off of those scripts.
The story that I was given to adapt came from one Staff Sergeant (at the time, I am not sure what rank he currently holds) CJ Grisham and based on journals he kept while serving his country in Iraq, during which time he was awarded several medals, including a Bronze Star with V device, two Meritorious Service Medals, an Army Commendation Medal, five Army Achievement Medals, a Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, three Good Conduct Medals, a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, an Armed Forced Expeditionary Medal and a Combat Action Badge...that I know of.
I got to know CJ a bit while adapting his journal entries and I'm happy and better off for it. I know there are surely many things I talk about and post online that he disagrees with politically - but we've never debated, argued or had words of any sort about it.
CJ is a real life hero and a freedom of speech warrior; he may not agree with what you say, but he'll fight for your right to say it as much as anyone I've ever met, if not more.
It was a very real experience working on this and one that I would like to share - hopefully it's an experience to read. I think this particular story of CJ's is worth telling and when I asked CJ for permission he said he agreed. So without any further ramblings, here is the story.
The Dogs Of War
Based on the journal of C.J Grisham - adapted by Jay Odjick
We open on a trooper in bed, knees folded before him. Bed is a sparse, military rack; nothing but the bare essentials. There is a window nearby the bunk.
He wears a tanktop, dogtags and desert camo military issue pants; sports a high and tight hairdo.
On his knees sits a journal, and the writer looks very tired, weary. He is NOT writing, even though he has been trying to.
Closer in on our trooper now; his head bowed, he is falling asleep; eyes dimmed.
Closeup on face, we are moving in as if with a slow tracking camera. His eyes are shut.
Closer on eyes. Still shut.
SFX: Barking, and much of it. To LETTERER: Please make the barking rough, jagged and harsh, very in your face. Angry; diagonal placement, eye catching.
(Up to penciller to decide how much of face he wants to draw, but this should be dynamic.)
Our trooper’s eyes snap open, fully wide, in reaction to the barking.
Trooper rubs his eyes as the barking continues.
Trooper looks downward at journal.
Panel at bottom of page, just big enough to fit this text:
I went to SFC Lollar to get some more ammunition: 9mm rounds and
another thermite grenade. He said he could get me some more 9mm
rounds, but it might be tough to get a thermite grenade. I told chief
the deal and he said no more using these things without his
permission. I told him I can make those decisions and he reiterated no
more using those things without his permission. I told him that I
don’t need to be wearing Staff Sergeant rank then and made the attempt
to take it off. Unfortunately, it was sew-on rank. So, I decided to do
something I don’t think I need to ask for permission to do: I’m taking
a nap after writing this.
SFX: Barking. Smallish font
Our trooper leans backward against headboard as the barking continues.
SFX: Barking; larger font than previous panel
Trooper looks skyward, head tilted back.
SFX: Barking! Large, prominent font.
Our trooper closes his eyes and covers his ears with his hands.
(This sound effect should come between the two panels; joining them, almost. In other words, it’s the divider between the two panels, in each, but acting as a gutter.)
Caption: I went to SFC Lollar to get some more ammunition.
Our trooper and a few other guys are behind cover, a wall, and bullets are smacking off it, thru it, dust flies, and ricocheting fragmentation all around them. We can see who is firing at them, insurgents protecting a large anti-aircraft gun. One enemy combatant mans the gun.
One man shouting, on or off panel, pencillers’ discretion: “Get on that damned anti-aircraft gun before they get off another shot! Let’s go!!”
Some of the troops are getting off return fire at the insurgents.
Our trooper eyes the A.A gun.
We see our trooper reaching for a frag grenade.
We get a nice, clear shot of our trooper clutching the grenade and preparing his toss.
Our trooper tosses the thermal grenade.
The insurgents react, diving for cover, the one manning the AA gun in center focus; his eyes wide with fear and horror.
Our troop takes cover behind the wall, teeth gritted, eyes shut. We could also see some of his men following suit.
Some of the troops are peering around or over cover. Our trooper kneels on one bent leg, weapon at the ready.
We see the troops now surrounding the AA gun; we’ve skipped ahead a little in time, so if there was any combat post grenade toss, we’ll leave that to the imagination.
There is a large foxhole directly before the AA gun. (See reference pic 1); we can have some dust billowing, and we can see spent shell casings littered about to denote the fact the AA gun was active and that there was fire.
Trooper 1: Position secure, Staff Sergeant.
The men have encircled the gun.
Our trooper, the writer, advances on the gun. No words here. He has his weapon slung over shoulder.
We see him reach for his thermal grenade.
Our trooper yanks the pin on the grenade, standing directly before the barrel, or tube.
He tosses the thermal grenade down the tube, directly into the belly of the gun.
Panel shows a solitary image of the AA gun, disabled. The tube or barrel is melting, the metal sags and melts downward, the thermite grenade heats up to 4000 degrees. Unsure as to whether or not this produces discernible flame, but I’ll leave this up to the penciller / art team to decide.
To the right of the ruined AA gun, we see text.
1159Z, 11 April 2003, Friday
I’m pissed off, so what better thing to do than write in a journal?
A few days ago, I wrote about destroying an anti-aircraft gun with a
thermite grenade (incendiary). Well, someone got upset about that. I
don’t know if it was CPT Somers or Mr. Young, but Mr. Young told me
that if we can’t get a replacement grenade that I need to write a
memorandum about why, when and where the grenade was used.
That whole thing makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Why even give soldiers weapons if they aren’t supposed to use them? For crying out loud, I
destroyed an anti-aircraft gun with it. It's a freakin' war and
someone's worried about where a thermal grenade went. Next they'll be
asking why I need more ammunition or MRE's.
We see that our trooper has flipped back a page, and is reading a previous journal entry, the text above.
He thoughtfully eyes his writing, squinting.
2050Z, 11 April 2003, Friday
I can’t sleep. It’s almost midnight local time. Every time I close my
eyes images of the past few weeks run through my head.
Trooper leans back again.
SFX: Small font, not very intrusive, BARKING.
Things are calming down so fast that all that’s left is reflection. There are
also a couple of dogs outside that keep barking. I swear that in the
morning I’m going to ask the commander for permission to kill them.
He shuts his eyes.
SFX: BARKING, growing larger once more.
I probably could have gotten to sleep a long time ago, but the dogs kept
me awake. That made me angry which kept me thinking about other things
that made me angry.
Our trooper has gritted his teeth, angrily.
SFX: BARKING, growing larger still! In your face, obtuse and obnoxiously so.
Then all the things I’ve seen during this war kept
flashing through my mind.
Trooper places a forearm over and across his eyes, teeth gritted, lips pulled farther apart. To PENCILLER: This is the emotional core of the scene, please try to enable our reader to feel with our trooper.
Panel 1 SPLASH PAGE
When I close my eyes I see dead people. I
see myself nervously sitting in a foxhole waiting for the enemy to
suddenly jump out of the bushes only to be mowed down by claymore
mines and machine guns. I see artillery rounds exploding within feet
of me. I see myself getting shot at from less than ten feet away and
having to kill and injure people who are forced to fight me, but would
rather be with their families. I see the innocent faces of all the
people I’ve met that have nowhere to go. I see the Iraqi children
clutching their parents' hands and thighs.
A collage of images:
-Our trooper seated, looking nervous in foxhole
-Artillery rounds exploding, or explosions in general
-Our trooper engaged in close quarters shootout
-Children, hands outstretched toward us
CENTER IMAGE: faces of innocent, scared people – I feel this should be the focal point of the image overall; at the epicenter, the chaos and emotion, the carnage and destruction surrounding it. Artistically, I feel that works to show how these people are surrounded by all the things our trooper is describing, but please do what works best for the story.
No one ever came to pick up that first sergeant we were talking to
Our trooper rises from his bunk.
Once it started getting dark, we had to have him leave.
We weren’t going to guard him and we didn’t want to make someone else
have to watch him either. The only other option was to tell him to
leave in the most polite way.
Our trooper has opened his eyes and is looking out a window, standing before it.
This was a guy who came forward and gave
us all sorts of information about where the enemy was and what their
disposition was. He said that he is a dead man now. He has no home to
go to. He is from Basrah. We let him go to sleep in the streets after
I told him that we don’t do that to people who help us. He can’t go to
a hotel because there aren’t any open. We used him and sent him out to
fend for himself.
Caption 2, low on panel, all alone: We might see him again.
Our trooper casts his eyes downward, away from his mirrored reflection.
Caption: I hate myself sometimes.
He looks up slightly, but his reflection is blurred this time. Dark, and muddled. Scary, possibly.
SFX: BARKING, again loudly.
I’m going to kill that dog, I swear. I’m going to either shoot him or
hit him as hard as I can with the strongest pole I can find. That dog
will not bark again.
The Trooper looks out the window, eyes glaring.
I will hurt it so that it cannot move and then
bury it either alive or dead. I don’t think I’m even going to ask for
permission. I’m just going to walk up to it and hit it with all my
Caption 2, LARGER FONT: I could not get back to sleep if I wanted to.
The trooper whirls away from window.
Our trooper walking away from the window.
Caption: The barking must stop.
All text. Black panel.
2349Z, 11 April 2003, Friday
Okay, I'm back. I couldn't catch the dogs.
Every time I got close they
just ran away. Of course, they were barking the whole time. If I
weren't so afraid of shooting one of our soldiers, I'da just shot at
them. I couldn't get close enough to hit this with a shovel I found. I
think the dogs probably sensed their imminent death if they let me get
close enough. I even tried sweet talking them into coming close and
pretending nothing was wrong. They didn't buy it. So, I'm back in my
cot still trying to get to sleep. At least I had a nice long walk
chasing those stupid things. I think I was out there about an hour. I
guess I'm more surprised no one mistook me for the enemy and took
shots at me. Of course, I'm in the middle of one of the most fortified
postitions in Iraq right now. We're living at Saddam's paradeground.
It's the place with the huge hands holding the swords over the road.
Well, I'm gonna try to get some sleep, but I swear if I go without any
longer I won't be sane enough NOT to shoot those dogs.