By Sam King
Kabul Disco Book 1: How I Managed Not to be Abducted in Afghanistan, is a satirical autobiography by Nicolas Wild. It is published by Humanoids under the Life Drawn label and it is a slice of life story that is part of a graphic Travelogue series. It is humorous and provides a different viewpoint than I have ever read before, making it a highly interesting read.
The story opens up in Paris, France, in 2005. Nicolas Wild is a cartoonist who is lacking inspiration. He receives an e-mail from a friend showing a want ad for a comic artist to work in Kabul, Afghanistan. At first, Nicolas thinks someone would have to be desperate to take the job and work there, but then he realizes he is just desperate enough as he needs a new place to live. He moves to Kabul and the story is a relation of his experience there with lots of sarcasm and humorous interactions that occasionally come across as being sad in a pitiful way.
This autobiography is divided into two parts. The first opens up to Nicolas traveling to Kabul and focuses predominantly on him settling in. He meets his new coworkers and adjusts to life in Kabul, from February to the start of April. He struggles at first to fit in and fall into a rhythm, but in time he does. Part two takes a political turn, providing Nicolas with a contract extension. That results in him needing to work on politically based materials commissioned by the American Army to help the Afghan Army’s recruitment efforts. Later they also work on developing visual representations of candidates to improve voting and then educational comics to teach illiterate citizens laws using images and cartoon scenarios.
This is a translated work and it is from a viewpoint that American readers may not be used to. It is a trip to Afghanistan, written and illustrated by a French cartoonist, translated into English. I have never read a graphic travelogue and this isn’t like other graphic novels you tend to find on shelves. The art style reminds me a little of Dilbert or other comic strips, in that faces tend to be minimal, but they aren’t overly cartoony in the same way as our typical Sunday funnies. The art style just appears to be along those veins. One of the most interesting things about this work, but also one of the most potentially tedious, is that it provides information to allow the reader better insight about Afghanistan. The political situations and some history are provided. These are interesting, but they also disrupt the story flow a little. However, for readers like me who don’t know much about the country apart from what media tells us, this is definitely necessary to really understand certain components of the story. The second half shows that kidnappings had begun which had a lot of impact on a person’s ability to go out, and it presents riots as an occurrence, so without the political background, none of that would have context. That doesn’t make it any more fun to slog through, it just justifies its presence. I like learning about new cultures, so this was an insightful read, but I detest politics, so those elements weren’t that enjoyable to me, although I am grateful for their inclusion.
Overall, this is a very interesting read. I would recommend it to people interested in reading something different from the usual comic fare. It will be especially interesting to anyone who likes to read and learn about cultures different from their own. The Humanoids Life Drawn label seems to be putting out some intriguing titles that are kind of unconventional, but worth taking the time to read. They are different from traditional comics and have some extra depth to them that would make them good for group discussions. I could see this title being one that would’ve been covered in a graphic novel course I took in college, as it would lend very well to analysis and discussion. This volume was published in April of this year and Book Two is slated for release in September.
Kabul Disco Vol. 1