Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq by Sarah Glidden

Sunday 22/01/2017
The cover of Rolling Blackouts.

For some, the 2003 US-led war in Iraq, which toppled Saddam Hussein, and the “Arab spring” revolutions of 2011 were moves towards democracy. For others, they were a setback.
In Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq, comic cartoonist Sarah Glidden set out to show the effects of war and recount the tales of refugees but the overall purpose of journalism and how journalists cover wars is what shines most in the book.
Glidden studied painting at Boston University and started creating comic strips in 2006 when she was living at the Flux Factory artists collective in New York. She based her book on memoirs and testimonies she had collected in 2010 during a trip with journalists to Syria, Turkey and Iraq to research stories on the effects of the Iraq war for American audiences.
Glidden, also the author of How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, ended up “reporting on the reporters” in Rolling Blackouts.
She said reporters speak of only being able to hear one side of stories. A complaint that stood out in her book was: “Emotionally manipulating people, then simplifying their stories. It’s not the noble profession I wanted it to be.”
Witnessing people’s misery made the journalists reflect on who is responsible. The reporters debate whether they did enough to stop the Iraq war by peacefully protesting and if violent protest would have made a difference.
They also question whether the war was a good way to liberate Iraq’s Shias and Kurds, who had been oppressed by Saddam, at the expense of the thousands who subsequently lost their lives.
The reader is reminded of the good intentions journalists have when reporting on war. A reporter says: “Everything that I do in journalism is based on the idea that if people are exposed to more ideas and information then they’ll allow themselves to question things that they assumed were right…. The best we can hope for is that the story gets passed along. The way the reader uses that story to understand the world is up to them.”
There is also a reminder of the good intentions soldiers had when they invaded Iraq. One former soldier said he was against the war but wanted to influence Iraq in a positive way. As the invasion was followed by the insurgency and al-Qaeda, he said he wanted to do something to stop it and make the United States look better in the region.
The book gives a brief introduction of what the politically loaded term “Kurdistan” is and its history and provides a summary of the Iraq war through dialogue.
A Kurd spoke of the freedom that Iraq’s Kurdish community gained after Saddam’s fall: “The Arab people, they will not control this area again. The Kurdish people, they taste the freedom, they like it. Now if something happened again, all the Kurdish people would sacrifice their life for that freedom.”
Rolling Blackouts is a colourful and entertaining read that provides a good introduction into understanding the Iraq war and “Arab spring” in Syria. Filled with wit, sarcasm and comedy, the book shows Iraqis and Syrians to be generous and polite, despite their troubles.
Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq by Sarah Glidden, Drawn and Quarterly, 304 pages.