Graphic Novel (Guest) Review 72/365: Pride of Baghdad – Brian K. Vaughan Week!

Please keep up with all of my old Graphic Novel Reviews here as I quest for 365 in 365 days!

Brian K. Vaughan Week continues with a guest review that I featured in January of 2015 by my friend and fellow Comic Book Teacher Michael Gianfrancesco.  I don’t like to post re-posts, BUT it is BKV Week, and Pride of Baghdad is a BKV classic, and Michael already did an amazing write-up on it, so here it is (with my original intro)!


Over the past couple of years, as The Comic Book Teacher and I have been exploring this great country talkin’ ’bout comics in the classroom, we have met some amazing people and made some great connections. One of those awesome peeps came our way at the NCTE Boston Conference: Michael Gianfrancesco.  Michael is one of us!  An educator, researcher, and lover of comics…especially in the classroom.  Ronell and I had the pleasure of presenting with Mr. Gianfrancesco at the New York Comic Con this past October, and we look forward to lots of great adventures as The Comic Book Teachers move forward.  I had asked Michael to write a guest blog review for the page, and here it is!  It’s a fabulous look at a staple of the literary graphic cannon discussion: Pride of Baghdad, which I will be teaching for the first time this semester…so excited! Enjoy!

Title: Pride of Baghdad 

Author(s): Brian K. Vaughan, Niko Henrichon

Publisher: Image (2006)

Age Rating: 17+

By Michael Gianfrancesco

As both an educator of literature and writing and an appreciator of the comic form it is often difficult to reconcile the two halves of my personality in order to create a synthesis that is the best of both worlds. Too often, my love of certain graphic novels gets in the way of my judgment when selecting texts to consider for class. Remembering to ask the age old “teachery” question, “What is the goal for my students?” gets forgotten, or at least muddied by the concept that “This book is SO COOL that I have to share it with these kids!”

Fortunately, there are a number of great graphic novels that allow me to both justify their use in the classroom as well as give me the opportunity to geek out a bit with the students. One such book is Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon’s 2006 masterpiece Pride of Baghdad. It’s been in my regular classroom rotation for years and has remained relevant and impactful due to its universal themes of war, family, loss, and (dare I say it) skewed perception of what it means to be proud.

Based very loosely on events surrounding the bombing of the Baghdad Zoo by American forces in 2003, the story follows four lions who hop the crumbling walls of their shattered enclosure and seek their fortune and freedom in the burning remains of the city. Vaughn has made these animals semi-anthropomorphic (not to the degree of the characters’ human dimensions and animal faces in Spiegelman’s Maus, but only in that they can talk to each other and other animals) and given each a backstory and role to play in the books’ sad but inevitable conclusion.

What makes this novel all the more special is the beauty of the artwork itself. Hernichon masterfully recreates post-war Baghdad in all its shorn grandeur. Present are the famous landmarks including the sword clutching arch known sometimes as the Hands of Victory and the not-yet-razed statue of Saddam Hussein. The abandoned streets are presented awash in deep red and orange sepia tones that invoke the bloodied and burning remains of what was once a bustling Middle Eastern city.

The text pulls no punches in terms of its treatment of war and the atrocities therein. Within the first few pages, students are treated to a faithful giraffe getting his head blown off in graphic detail. This is the page that takes the “comic” right out of comic book for any students who may have been expecting something akin to Richie Rich or even Scooby Doo.

“But Mr. G., it’s a talking animal book! This is gross!”

Hey, kids, that’s war for you. This is the reality of what can and does happen when we start carpeting one another with explosive devices.

The book’s mature themes don’t end there and this is where I would caution educators to vet Pride of Baghdad carefully. There is a scene implying sexual assault of one of the females, a bloody battle between a bear and the male lion, and an ending that will not send you home happy. You know your regional population, your district and building culture, and what constitutes “appropriate” in your classroom so tread carefully. Just a word to the wise! Let’s just say, it’s not a surprise that this showed up on this blog’s sister site last fall when reviewed as part of the CLDF banned book review week.

Ultimately, the book works well when paired with other texts. I use it with Maus as both share similar themes about how war impacts the individual and the family and its gorgeous color and panoramic artwork are a stark and welcome contrast to Spiegelman’s thick lines, claustrophobic panels, and black and white presentation. You could also toss this in with The Things They Carried, Night, Diary of Anne Frank, or A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Hopefully it works in your classroom, but it’s a keeper regardless.

Thanks to Mr. Kallenborn for giving me some inches to pontificate. It was quite fun – maybe I will do it again!

Thanks and peace…

M. Gianfrancesco

Hope you enjoyed that amazing review, and if you had read it before, I hope you enjoyed it again!  I love what Michael does, and I love me some Pride of Baghdad


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