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Olivier Morel and Maël: The Ongoing War

Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day. In the graphic novel Walking Wounded, Olivier Morel and Maël set out to tell their stories.

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Image by Maël

By Olivier Morel and Maël

I crashed there like a meteor. In the summer of 2005, I touched down in the Midwest after having lived in urban locations ranging from Marseilles and Paris in France to Berlin. I had never heard the name of the city of South Bend but I soon realized it wouldn’t be possible to view it through European lenses.

This was my first experience of complete immersion, though I already had ideas about the United States, having spent time in Los Angeles, as well as New York City… and in movie theatres, of course. In France and Germany, I had demonstrated against the war in Iraq. When I headed across the Atlantic, I thought I would arrive to a country at war. I thought everyone would be eager to talk about it, that most families had someone, or at least knew someone, who was deployed.

This was not the case. I occasionally saw bumper stickers like “Proud Mom of a soldier in Iraq.” “How is your warrior doing?” I asked one of those Moms at a gas station. “We’re just praying!” She was terribly anxious. After the apparent popular support that prompted the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it seemed to me that the soldiers’ families were now isolated and forgotten.

There are thousands of Jeffs in the US today. But they are not numbers. They are our sisters, our brothers, our children.

Two years later, on a gloomy, snowy day, I sat in my car, listening to a short piece on NPR about the alarming suicide rate among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. I couldn’t take it.

Why is it that all of a sudden, it got so unbearable? As I tried to chase those painful emotions, a huge black Humvee passed me by: the ghost of a soldier in full gear was staring at me with red eyes. That cinematic after-image lasted. I began to be haunted.

Who is the person who started to investigate the subject of military suicide on his spare time back then? The grandson of a French WWII soldier and resistor who died from post-traumatic stress at the age of 50? The new father? The Notre Dame professor? The European? The future US citizen?

To this day, I still don’t know. I’m still in the gloom. But it was Jeffrey M. Lucey who prompted me to act out, to film a documentary about these veterans, and write this graphic novel.

There are thousands of Jeffs in the US today. But they are not numbers. They are our sisters, our brothers, our children.

Their ghosts will not belong to the gloom.

—Olivier Morel

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Translated by Edward Gauvin
Lettering by Mercedes Claire Gillom

Olivier Morel, an Assistant Professor of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame, is the author of Visages de la grande guerre and director of the documentary On the Bridge. His recent works also include a book on Berlin as literary capital and a documentary film titled Germany Narrated by Its Writers. Morel is currently working on film projects and completing a web documentary for the international TV channel TV5.

Maël is an artist, author of comic books, and musician in the folk-rock band HitchcockGoHome! He has published Les Rêves de Milton with Sylvain Ricard and Frédéric Féjard, Dans la colonie pénitentiaire with Sylvain Ricard, L’Encre du passé with Antoine Bauza, and the four volumes of Notre Mère la Guerre with Kris. Kris and him are currently working on its adaption as a feature film. He also recently published Chroniques de Notre Mère la Guerre and the book Entre les lignes.

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2 comments for Olivier Morel and Maël: The Ongoing War

  1. Comment by John on January 30, 2015 at 5:37 am

    The author says ” I sat in my car, listening to a short piece on NPR about the alarming suicide rate among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. I couldn’t take it.”

    Nothing about the millions of people killed by the US military and its allies since Vietnam. ”You know what they call them? The uncounted” . I couldn’t take it either.

    Mr Morel, such absences in your account call into question your point of view.

  2. Comment by Stachu Pendowski on January 31, 2015 at 2:35 am

    John drivels, “Nothing about the millions of people killed by the US military and its allies since Vietnam.”

    Morel tells us that he “demonstrated against the war in Iraq.” So, we can guess that the author is not some sort of flag-waving jingoist. This piece is about his reaction to the unprecedented suicide rate amongst post-9/11 US veterans. And it is endemic largely due to a burden of guilt carried by individuals of conscience who realized what sort of destruction they were complicit in after the fact.

    If he wanted to write about the thousands of Iraqis who were killed during the American invasion and occupation (and how Iraq is now a battleground of an international gang war), then he could have easily done so without mentioning a single US casualty; however, this piece is on suicide committed by Americans and is therefore not obligated to mention anyone else.

    Don’t worry, there are plenty of other articles that warrant your disjointed overstatement.

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