Whether one wishes to admit it or not, the odds suggest that within a lifetime ones larger culture has come into contact with a mass military conflict of some kind. For the twenty-first century, it has been the ongoing middle east conflict. What conflicts such as those in the middle east provide for regular citizens, in my opinion, are questions pertaining to not only the motivations for such conflict, but also the effects that such conflicts has on those that experience them. Writer Jason Ciaramelia adapts for comics Joe Hill’s story of the latter by examining an individual home from war in “Thumbprint #1,” which was first published by Mr. Hill in 2007 in the publication Postscripts and is available in a short story/novella format.
Ciaramelia and Hill gives the reader a rather large bone to chew on in this first issue as they join other curious artists such as documentarian Errol Morris, who tread some similar ground in his 2008 offering Standard Operating Procedure, in taking the men and women working at the Abu Ghraib prison and building his mystery around that. Thumbprint is presenting some ideas that are bold and scary at the same time, and in doing so walks a fine line, just as Morris did in his documentary, in planting a question in the readers mind about how do we present those that are in extraordinary circumstances who fight to protect our country? For me, and I believe for Morris (I cannot say yet of Thumbprint till the end of the mini-series), it is about presenting the information and letting the viewer/reader decide. Such questions that emerge from this first issue (and in my own contextualization) include questions surrounding the right to torture, the right to decency, and the thin line that are the rules of engagement and detainment in military protocol, all of which came into question, in a modern context, concerning events that took place at Abu Ghraib.
Thumbprint has a female protagonist with Mallory Grennan who is in the mold of most literary constructions of the damaged war veteran—alone, a loner, struggling to function in a society where there are rules into which she cannot understand anymore based on the experiences she has encountered in military life. Having grown up the son of a Vietnam veteran of two tours, and being in a family with a heavy present military presence, I find that I am not surprised by what is being discussed, rather, I am relieved that someone is attempting to widen the narrative yet again, to humanize the individuals that have had to undergo incredible circumstances and been in situations where they have had to act inhumanely and later justify it for the rest of us who cannot possibly understand. Do I have sympathy for Grennan? Yes. Will that change? Maybe. This is the extreme grey area I was leaning towards before, and the reaction will truly be person-to-person (or in this case reader-to-reader).
Supporting this complicated story is the artwork of Vic Malhotra. To make a comparison, Malhotra reminds me of the modern noir-ish flair that other artists such as Sean Phillips and Matthew Southworth have shown in Criminal and Stumptown respectively. The choice here, which I think is a correct one, is for a straightforward realism free of sequential flare. Perhaps as the story develops and flashbacks become more intense, some of the panels and layouts will change, but for issue one everyone is sticking to their guns to attempt something very accessible while maintaining an edge, a starkness.
I think it is interesting to release this as a mini-series rather than a one-shot or direct TPB. Perhaps this is due to that Ciaramelia wants to make adjustments from the original material (and I have no idea, I have never read that original story) to flesh out some more ideas. Let’s hope so, and that Thumbprint can deliver as a whole some satisfactory resolutions and leave the door open for some more conversations on such a complicated subject.