Review – Coming Home: Veteran’s Mental Health Stories
Creators: Emma Vieceli, Mike Donaldson, Keith Page, Clark Bint
Release Date: 16th November 2022 (available online HERE)
On sale this week, Coming Home is an anthology from award-winning Arts in Health charity Re-Live which features a plethora of creative talent coming together to tell a collection of stories based on the real life experiences of UK military personnel. And, from the Commando-esque front cover (provided by comics legend Ian Kennedy who sadly passed away earlier this year) to the very last page, it’s fully apparent just how much care and passion has gone into this project.
Each story sees a military veteran working alongside an established cartoonist to bring their story to comic book medium, and the sheer honesty and bravery on display here is genuinely moving. Some of these men and women are confronting stories that they have kept buried inside for almost fifty years, and the hope is that seeing these sorts of struggles and experiences play out on the printed page will help raise awareness of the lack of support that so many veterans of all ages have been forced to deal with.
The first story, “Safe Haven”, sees artist Keith Page collaborating with Royal Marine Robbie to retell a particularly harrowing chapter in his life. Page adopts a scratchy, black-and-white approach, very much in the classic Commando style, as Robbie recounts his experiences befriending a Kurdish family in Iraq, only to be pulled out prematurely and being forced to reconcile his feelings of anger, frustration and guilt.
Up next, “Stretcher-Bearer Stan” takes a look back at Stan’s experiences at HM Prison Maze in Northern Ireland, and sees him working alongside artist Mike Donaldson to recount the time he spent dealing with the injured during one of the many riots which plagued ‘Long Kesh’ over the years. Donaldson adopts an interesting visual flourish here, portraying Stan in a cartoonish, almost Beano-esque style while giving everything else a grounded, realistic aesthetic. It works remarkably well to underpin the loss of innocence Stan experiences during that rain-soaked night, and one particular splash page is nothing short of haunting.
The third story, “A Healthy Fighting Force” takes us out of the field and into the barracks as Emma Vieceli us brings Army Corporal Claire’s story of dehumanising, misogynistic abuse. Forced to give a Health Protection brief to a group of boorish, sexist squaddies, Claire’s growing frustration, anger and humiliations is almost tangible, as it the complete lack of support from her superiors. Vieceli does a stunning job of conveying the mounting discomfort here, and the smirking face of the Sergeant Major is particularly well handled. The final page showing Claire completely and utterly broken is truly heartbreaking, as is the fact that in this instance, there isn’t any sort of ‘redemption arc’ to see her get her revenge. Real life stories can be like that sometimes.
Finally, “Hard Shoulder” sees Clark Bint helping to recount Dave’s struggles with adjusting to life outside of the army, exploring the contrasts between civilian and military life as Dave finds himself driving further and further away from his wife and children, even going to far as to contemplate taking his own life. This one probably hit me the hardest of all, and watching Dave recounting his friends, structure and sense of belonging gradually being stripped away piece by piece was really hard to watch.
A collection of genuinely moving true stories brought together for a worthy cause, Coming Home gives us a brief snapshot of some of the struggles that military veterans face on a daily basis, and once again showcases the power the comic book medium has to bring these stories to the masses in a truly accessible way.
To celebrate the release of Coming Home, there will be an exhibition of the book’s original artwork at The Panel Gallery in Northampton from Saturday 19th November – Wednesday 7th December (opening hours Tuesday to Saturday 11am-4pm).
Also, with the kind permission of his family, Re-Live have commissioned a limited edition archival print of Ian Kennedy’s cover artwork, which is available from their website www.re-live.org.uk with all proceeds supporting them to continue making comics with veterans.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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I have just read issue 1 of coming home. Can I just say what a brilliant comic the team have put together. There should be more of this type of comic . To make people of not only military war experiences but mental health. That effects Al personal. Both in the field. And after . Both male and female. More please . Keep up the good work. Thank you
We couldn’t agree more!