Reviewed by Ian Kreisberg
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED in reading a smart, challenging, visceral, slightly unnerving comic which compellingly and uniquely shares the converging story of two people in a style that is both familiar and foreign authored by someone who spent two years in Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan and paid for by the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then may I suggest Soldiers of God by Kelly Clancy?
Or, to expostulate, there is something about Soldiers of God that is flawlessly unsettling (not the same as unsettlingly flawless, the book has flaws) and embedded in the book’s DNA. There are patches of narration that unsettle because you don’t know who the speaker is, you only know that you believe in them and, when they combine with the spidery scrawl of the lettering, the contrast is as disorienting as a child speaking with the voice of an adult.
Turning our attention away from the words and to the imagery, we find just as much contrast. Characters small, simple, iconic, as if Richard Scarry had drawn people instead of animals, so unassuming and non-threatening and yet there is something of the underground about the style of illustration, something about the attention to detail, the way the panels are almost meticulously dense with information, toeing the line between noise and signal, reminiscent of Eddie Campbell’s work, something about the style of stippling which takes the visual archetypes we’re so comfortable seeing and drapes them in the veneer of the underground and adding a tantalizingly uncomfortable texture that hints “you’re not supposed to see this.” And so, of course, you want to see more.
Possibly the most masterful aspect of Soldiers of God is its layout which seems to change every few pages. Sometimes a page has six panels, sometimes nine. Sometimes the panels are the same size, sometimes different. Sometimes the panels are aligned in a grid, sometimes the bubble and overlap each other like clouds. Anyone can be inconsistent; what impresses about Clancy is that she makes this work. These changes are not jarring, they do not draw attention to themselves, they can be unnerving at point but never by themselves, only in service to the narrative. Equally, they serve to highlight points of great tension with their familiar regularity.
All this wrapped in two converging stories of religion and family that rings powerfully of truth, which brings to mind a quotation from author Alan Moore who said, “I traffic in fiction. I do not traffic in lies” and even though Clancy openly regrets fictionalizing Soldiers of God, it resonates, inescapably, with reality. Inspired by coincidences from the author’s own life and experience in the Peace Corps and peppered with regional history, it is made up of truths if not of facts.
These elements come together in a potent alchemy which eliminate any surprise that Soldiers of God was awarded a Xeric grant for comic book self-publishers, which is very hard to come by. The Xeric is awarded by Peter Laird, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. All this is made doubly impressive by Soldiers of God being Kelly Clancy’s first book.
All in all, if Soldiers of God is worth anything, it is your time.
Ian Kreisberg is a voracious autodidact and sesquipedalian friend of the Peace Corps. His comics and calligraphy have been featured in art galleries, he has lectured on comics as a unique medium at FIT, and has performed three sold out shows at the Improv in New York City. In his spare time, he plays ukulele. Ian also went to High School with Kelly Clancy’s college roommate.
To order Soldiers of God from Amazon, click on the book cover or the bold book title — and Peace Corps Worldwide, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance that helps support our awards.
[And all proceeds go to charity, split between the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust and the Turkmen Youth and Civic Values Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to making higher education more accessible to Central Asian students.]