Written & Created by Richard C. Meyer & Brian Iglesias
Artwork by Thomas Jung & Otis Frampton
As many of you may know from reading my work here at Bag and Bored, I am a huge fan of the super hero and science fiction genres. However when a reality based comic book or graphic novel is done well there is perhaps no other medium that can capture the raw emotion and maintain historical accuracy like comic books. Sure there is plenty of room for artistic interpretation but overall because of the visual and literary components that work in concert to convey not only the facts but the feelings and atmosphere of a story or event comic books/ graphic novels, in my opinion, allow the deepest exploration of a topic possible. Richard Meyer, Brian Iglesias, Thomas Jung and Otis Frampton have harnessed their collective creative talents and utilized the graphic novel format to stunning result in telling a poignant and true tale of human drama and triumph of will. Chosin: Hold the Line is the story of the Battle of Fox Hill in the Korean War, a war that is often times misrepresented as a police action or erroneously thought of in comedic terms due to the success of the M.A.S.H. television series of the 70s. Meyer takes an unflinching look at combat in general in this debut graphic novel and who is better qualified than someone who has served their country in reality to bring those events to life on the page. In fact, the entire creative team has served in one branch of our armed forces or another but beyond that fact this is just a darn good book.
I don’t want to go off on the politics surrounding the events depicted in the book, I am not qualified to speak on such matters, I have never served in the military or even considered it but I have always loved the deeply emotional narratives of war stories like Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, Platoon and of course Apocalypse Now. The battlefield has always been a particularly dramatic setting for comic books as well; just look at the very early Captain America, Men of War, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos and especially Joe Kubert’s seminal Sgt. Rock up to the more recent titles like The Nam, Viet Nam Journal and G.I. Joe. There are truly too many to mention here. War is a subject that frightens, inspires, divides, unifies but always provokes an emotional response no matter what side of the issue you fall on. It has been said that if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything; it is that kind of sentiment that has filled recruiting offices and grave yards since there have been flags to fight for but, Meyer shows us that intangible element of combat that a lot of the more propaganda-heavy works miss entirely. He shows us the action from the ground up, the emotionally unprepared and under-trained young men on both sides, the trenches full of kind-hearted boys who would end up minus limbs or worse by the time the sadistic orders of their heartless commanding officers were carried out, the outdated and very often malfunctioning equipment with which these men had to defend themselves, their fellow troops and their ideals was terrifying. This was life on the battlefield and it was not expected to be long. Meyer does an extremely impressive job of giving each of these characters a genuine voice and personality. One particularly ill-suited soldier is Pvt. Billy French through whose eyes this story is told in large part. He is a lanky blonde haired boy who is not at all the textbook heroic type but rises to the occasion when he is separated from his unit. Originally vested with the duty of delivering the mail, French goes on to become a soldier in every sense of the word, Meyer does some really detailed character development here and by the end of the story you will come to know each of these men; some good others not so good but all of them are the much more than the sum total of their circumstances, however they are defined by them and the decisions they make in battle.
Meyer paces the action exceedingly well filling in the details as we go along on this historic trek. Initially I found the complete absence of caption boxes awkward and thought that Meyer was shooting himself in the foot by foregoing this device designed to make details more accessible but several pages into the narrative I found it less important mainly because Meyer is able to work so well with Jung on the visual storytelling aspects and getting those scene defining details across. The humor and humanity that Meyer uses to endear these fighting men to the reader works exceptionally well. The jarring effect when one of these characters is torn from life by enemy fire is enhanced by the way Meyer weaves these horrendous events into the mundane tapestry of daily life in the trenches. It’s like a symphony consisting of moments of blissful quietude followed by the cacophonous rage of explosions and death only to recede back into the eerie stillness of post-assault silence. Meyer compares his work to that of Frank Miller’s 300 and I do see some similarities in the insurmountable odds these Marines faced when they looked across the field and saw a seemingly endless multitude of Communist troops, in one particularly memorable scene the enemy is portrayed as a slithering evil dragon.
Visually, artist Tom Jung does some impressive work; although he has plenty of room to grow the evidence of an inventive and imaginative comic book creator is certainly there in my opinion. He cleverly depicts the Communists as spectral figures with smoldering red eyes, at times they appear simply as a mass of glowing red slits. His real strengths are in in his facial renderings; Jung is able to competently convey a full spectrum of emotions through his use of facial features. However, the areas he could use some work in are anatomy and posing. His page compositions are passable, even cinematic at times but the posing of figures within a panel or page is where he drops the ball at times. The painted appearance of the work was sometimes muddied making key events unclear and hard to interpret. I did find Jung’s decidedly cartoony style to be an effective juxtaposition to the very weighty subject matter and I did like the overall tone of his artwork. Jung has a dynamic vision and when his chops are equal to that inspiration I believe we could be seeing his work at one of the indy publications.
The main story is followed by a shorter work also by Meyer called Chosin: To the Sea. The narrative follows two young children who are violently run out of their village when the entire place is sacked by the Communists. The story is poignant and ultimately provides a sense of closure to the entire work allowing us to experience the resolution with French as we are re-united with the plucky mailman turned hero. The artwork is vastly different as Otis Frampton handles the visuals for this story. His style is far more traditional, there is an obvious manga influence that works well with the narrative. This story is on a much smaller scale giving it a more intimate feel which is a nice contrast to the main story.
Meyer, Jung and Frampton do an admirable job on their debut graphic novel. The story is polished, engrossing and well-constructed. It pulls you in and makes you care about the characters. The dialog rings true and is not jargon-heavy or full of military references that would be confusing to the uninitiated, like me. In fact that is one of the book’s biggest assets, its accessibility. You don’t have to be an expert in the Korean War to enjoy this. The story is one of human drama, the tropes are time tested and the good vs. evil plot, while deeply rooted in reality, is the stuff of legend. I highly recommend giving this debut work from a promising creative team a try. I enjoyed it and I would like to thank these guys not only for a fine first time endeavor but for their selfless service to our country. (3.5/5)
Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.