The White Donkey: Terminal Lance
by Maximlian Uriarte
Little, Brown and Company
2016, 288 pages, 7 x 10.5 x 1 inches
Maximillian Uriarte served four years in the Marine Corps infantry and went on two combat deployments to Iraq. While on active duty, he created an online comic strip, Terminal Lance, which grew from a small following to being published in official armed forces publications. In The White Donkey, which he calls his "thesis project," he tells a story about the existential crisis of the military experience and what it means to enlist during a time of war. Subjects like hazing and PTSD are covered in the course of the story as he explores what might drive a Marine to suicide.
We follow Abe, a young, white middle-class kid who enlists after high school for want of a direction, trying to find something better to do with his life. He makes a friend in another "grunt," Garcia, who's there because there are no better paths for him. The contrast is stark. Garcia: "I didn't have shit else going for me, you know? I was with the wrong crowd a lot, I'd probably be in prison by now if not here."
Abe's privilege is shown by his encounter with an Iraqi policeman who tells him: "I have met many of your type over the last few years, coming here to fulfill some personal conquest, but you never stop to think about how arrogant you are. You seek some enlightenment at the expense of my people." The story follows Abe through training, his experience of the tedium of war, his need for validation and legitimacy in the eyes of fellow Marines, and finally, the horror of combat and the alienation of the returning veteran into his previous society. There are encounters with the locals, mistakes made, and the surreal encounter with the White Donkey, which holds up an entire column of armored vehicles as it plods slowly along in the middle of the road.
The art employed in The White Donkey is minimalist, stylized and realistic. Uriarte makes excellent use of color and story-board style to convey dramatic scenes. He makes use of color washes to separate different episodes of the stories. The pages of boot camp and training in Hawaii is a verdant green, Abe's trips back to the civilian life is rendered in shades of blue-gray and the scenes in Iraq are in shades of brown and olive. White space is deliberate and used to great effect.
The language is punctuated with frequent profanity and the story is spiked with humor that is at times bitter and obscene. In other words, situation normal for a story set in today's armed forces. This book hits you right in the gut. If you've ever wondered what it's like to serve in the Marine Corps and the experience of deployment in a war-torn country like Iraq, this book will help you understand.
– Carolyn Koh