The German illustrator Arne Jysch has completed his first graphic novel. He spoke to DW about "Smile and Wave," which is about the Bundeswehr's mission in Afghanistan.
Arne Jysch seems somewhat nervous at first. He knows that a graphic novel about a topic as controversial as the German army's deployment in Afghanistan is likely to provoke mixed reactions.
"I kept playing out possible reactions in my mind - reactions such as: 'You can't write that' or 'You can't say that.' So I was always a little insecure about it and I still am."
Readers will get a chance to judge for themselves whether or not he should be nervous about his graphic novel when it hits the shelves on July 2.
Jysch has never been to Afghanistan. He tells DW he refused to do his military service in 1993 but more for personal reasons than out of conviction.
Today, he says he sees the Bundeswehr in a different light but he would still refuse to do his military service.
"I can't imagine myself being able to cope with situations like those in Afghanistan. During my research that became all the more clear to me."
However, he says he was gripped by the topic that he spent two years working on. He was supported by journalists as well as the Bundeswehr and the German Ministry of Defense.
He was surprised by how quickly he was able to make contact with a lieutenant colonel who helped make his story "more detailed and realistic.”
“He also gave me access to hundreds of photographs," Jysch says. For him, it was important that his graphic novel be as authentic as possible, as protection from the accusation perhaps that he was never in Afghanistan nor in the army.
"The surroundings, the atmosphere, the characters and the military jargon were very important - I wanted to make even the made-up bits seem realistic."
Although he wanted to tell a realistic story, he also wanted to write a fictional story from a German perspective. "The advantage of fiction is that you can combine real experiences that different people have had and mix them all up," he explains.
In the graphic novel, which covers many aspects of Germany’s operation in Afghanistan, a photojournalist named Anni accompanies an army unit on a mission in the northwestern Afghan province of Baghlan. On the way back, their helicopter is attacked and forced to land. The soldiers try to make their way to a village and end up fighting with a group of insurgents. A soldier is kidnapped in the chaos.
In the second part of the book, the commanding officer returns to Afghanistan and sets out to find his abducted subordinate.
The first few pages of the graphic novel are action-packed. They also feed the concerns that many have when it comes to graphic novels.
"I could not imagine such a complex topic like Afghanistan could be compressed into the form of a comic," says Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi from DW's Afghan desk. "When I started reading it, I initially thought: 'This is typical - it's the same stuff you hear everywhere.'"
However, she kept reading and the more she did the "better" she thought it was, she admits. "The book gives readers a good idea of the situation in Afghanistan."
And in the end she did not mind the form: "The fact that it is a comic brings the characters to life. It also gives them more authenticity than, say, a film could."
Critical and pessimistic
However, Nasrat-Nazimi does have some misgivings still, but not because the kidnapping scene comes across as unrealistic.
"I think that the comic is too critical," she explains. "It could have been a little more balanced. Because after people read the comic, they are likely to be against the German deployment. It makes you think that everything they’re doing there is in vain."
Overall, she describes the comic as "infotainment" - in a good way - and says she can imagine people who are not interested in Afghanistan becoming more interested in something that they otherwise only know from the news.
That is exactly what Jysch hoped: "I wanted people to start talking about the German deployment in Afghanistan more. And that people be more informed about the concrete problems. Like confrontations with tribes," he says.
The writer doubts there will be a happy end in Afghanistan. "There are these absurd situations when our organized world clashes with the chaotic world. In my opinion, the two cannot be brought together."
Author: Rodion Ebbighausen / sb
Editor: Anne Thomas