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Guest Post - Vaughn and Henrichon's Pride of Baghdad: A Review

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.

Spoiler warning: This post contains minor spoilers for Pride of Baghdad.)

Zill, leader of his pride, lounges in his captivity in the hot Baghdad son, enclosed in a prison he no longer seems to mind, the Baghdad Zoo. A bird catches his attention, spouting nonsense. "The sky is falling," the stupid little creature cries. Zill dismisses the bird until two F-18 Falcons roar overhead, dropping ordinance into the city and accidentally destroying the walls and cages of the Baghdad Zoo.

Zill and his lion companions, for the first time, face terrifying freedom.

Brian K. Vaughn and Niko Henrichon's Pride of Baghdad is the story of four lions caught in the turmoil of the 2003 US Military invasion of Iraq, freed from captivity by a stray American bomb. Based on a true story and presented as a graphic novel, the creators tell an allegory that poignantly comments on the price and the effects of freedom thrust upon those who aren't ready for it. He seamlessly weaves a narrative about four inhabitants of the Baghdad zoo while simultaneously glimpsing the larger turmoil of the events of 2003.

Each lion acts as an allegorical representation of a particular segment of the Iraqi culture prior to American liberation, representing a different generation and reflects the spirit and events they have experienced. The elder Safa portrays a perspective of one who has lived under two types of oppression--lawlessness and captivity--while the slightly younger Zill contrasts this with memories of freedom and the male instinct for combat. Younger still is Noor, the adolescent lioness discontented with the walls that confine her and active in her pursuit of freedom. To complete the quartet is Ali, the innocent, a child representing the future of the pride.

Using these four distinct characters, we follow the lions as they gain freedom, roam the wreckage, attempt to avoid many dangers and interact with other natives to Baghdad. Without giving too much away, the interactions between the cast of four with other creatures loose in the streets of Baghdad is where really Pride of Baghdad shines. These creatures echo distinct characteristics of the culture of a city and a people who have lived under an oppressive regime and twice in recent history seen the effects war. The personalities and perspectives of these ancillary characters, combined with the pride they radiate, gives more gravity to the war in Iraq than even recent Oscar winning movies of the same subject.

Vaughn and Henrichon tell a complete story with vivid artistry. Smoldering ruins of the abandoned zoo and the city proper add weight to the events. Every location is distinct propelling the story forward. As is every character in spite only slight variation visually. The artist and writer manage to form a tale that is not only visually compelling, but compelling intellectually. 

There is more here than the story of lions presented with their freedom. It's a story about the people and the culture of Iraq and it's a story about the effects of war, oppression, and freedom. I will not spoil the summation at the novel's conclusion, but the words written are haunting and true. As a graphic novel and as a individual narrative, Pride of Baghdad is an excellent read.

two comments

I’m a gigantic fan of this book. With “here, Bullet” probably my favorite work of art about the war in Iraq.

I’m not sure I agree with Matty P’s description of the Lion back as an allegory for Iraq population. They certainly are an allegory for the Iraqi people, but the Lions are still vibrant, real characters. Even though they are lions.

More on this later today.


I highly recommend this book. It has so many layers and is incredibly deep. This won’t be our last post.

Matty P really keys in on the fact that the lions represent society and the reaction to war perfectly.