Sarah Glidden’s Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq is a graphic novel that tells the story of a group of journalists travelling through the Middle East. In doing this they conduct interviews with hopes of drawing attention to the effects of the Iraq War on the area, but more specifically, on the war’s refugees.
The story itself is strong. Glidden and crew shine light on an interesting point in Middle Eastern history, with a unique perspective; three American journalists and one ex-marine. Also, understanding that this is more of a graphic-documentary rather than a novel adds quite a bit of weight to the wealth of interviews that Glidden collected in her travels. The strength in Rolling Blackouts lies in this.
Glidden recorded countless conversations and does her best to recreate them in her book. She gives us a magical offering with insight into the effects of war and the destruction that it left some people’s lives in. But there was one major portion I couldn’t get over.
At times, while reading the novel, I asked myself what the graphic part of the book offered me as insight into Glidden’s experiences. Most of the time I glazed over the illustrations while drinking in the dialogue and text. While it added some colour and context to the story, it was mostly just people sitting around tables talking. Did I need guts and gore and more, no, but unlike the interviews and conversations, the illustrations lack a certain depth, a certain reality. I understand that the ‘graphic’ part is Glidden’s medium, but I could have done without a consistent cell based comic storyline.
For example, there is a page in which Glidden and two of her journo friends are working on stories, while the third, an ex-marine, is sitting and watching a youtube video. She asks him what he is watching. “This soldier is getting the medal of honor (sic) from President Obama. He’s the first living recipient of a medal of honor (sic) since the Vietnam War, so it is a very big deal,” he says. The cells show Glidden and the marine talking in a room, then the press conference where the soldier receives the medal from President Barack Obama. It turns out the soldier rescued another from Taliban insurgents but the other didn’t make it. But the visuals never leave the room and the press conference. I felt this portion was undermined by the illustrations and would have been better off without any.
I felt like she was saying to herself, “Well, I’m a cartoonist, I must cartoon.” But if she just stuck to the strength of this book, the insightful text, and maybe spent more time on several larger, more detailed illustrations, the book would be more accessible.
With that said, I still finished and enjoyed the book. All 298 pages of it.