It was tempting to make the headline for this review-interview "'Terminal Lance' creator Maximilian Uriarte gets dark with The White Donkey. That wouldn't be truthful, at least not completely.
Much of Uriarte's self-published graphic novel could be considered dark -- and likely will be. But the word "dark" could also be substituted with the word real. Though the book opens with a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction, veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom will find a lot of familiar feelings in its pages.
"It's 90 percent true and then there's a lot of fictional elements put into it," Uriarte says. "I don't like saying that it's a true story because it's not. It's fictional. I feel like once you add one fictional element to anything it becomes a fictional story. The white donkey was real. I really did run into the white donkey in real life, which I write about it in the back of the book. In real life, I only saw the donkey once when we stopped for convoy and that was it. I thought about it a lot every day after that though."
The White Donkey is a departure from his bread and butter work on Terminal Lance. But Uriarte's graphic novel was a long time coming. He first conceived the idea in 2010, and launched the Kickstarter for the project in July 2013, a funding process Uriarte will not soon repeat.
"I don't think I would ever do a Kickstarter again because I hated that. I still hate it," he says. "It's one thing to have an investor to answer to. It's another thing to have 3,000 investors to answer to when things take too long. It's really stressful."
Uriarte may be producing the first graphic novel written and illustrated by an Iraq veteran about the Iraq war, but the process of telling this story far outweighed the stress of the financing, in Uriarte's opinion.
He loves writing, even though he didn't even know how to make a graphic novel at first. But writing is writing, except when it comes to novels. It's important to note there's no corporate ownership to his work. His graphic novel is an independent endeavor, the culmination of more than five years of work.
"I love writing," he says. "I wrote this book as a screenplay first and that was how I approached it. I went through a few different processes of trying to figure out how to make this into a graphic novel because I had no idea how to make a graphic novel when I got into it. I started writing it out really novel-like, as a book. It didn't really do me any favors because I needed a screenplay. I needed a script for the graphic novel. Waxing poetic in sentences and paragraphs didn't really do me any favors. I thought, 'Why write all this beautiful poetic language that no one is going to see?'"
Fans of Terminal Lance may wonder why The White Donkey seems so different from the comic strip. The reason is because that's the reality of war, or at least Max Uriarte's experience with war.
"I wanted it to be a grim war story," he says. "I wanted it to be more self-aware in a way. I think the usual Hollywood narrative is always very heroic. I feel like a lot of being a Marine is not heroic in the slightest sense of it. I think I wanted to have a narrative that combats that idea of that glorified American ideology, that going to war is heroic. Even the "personal journey" aspect of it is pretty arrogant of people to think they're going to experience some enlightenment at the expense of people dying. It's a very sad and a very false reality I think."
The White Donkey is a thought-provoking, poignant work, on the level of Alan Moore's Watchmen, and is bound to raise Uriate's profile beyond the large and loyal audience he's already earned. Still, no matter how successful The White Donkey is, he wants fans to know Terminal Lance isn't going anywhere.
"Terminal Lance is going to be around for a while if I can help it," he says. "There's going to be some changes on the site. I want to open it up more for op-eds and some other content. I want it to be a place any branch can come to for entertainment."
The White Donkey will available on Amazon in February.