My name is Valerie Finnigan. I tend to get involved with a lot in my life as a wife, mother, emergency medical technician, health care provider, comic book fan, writer, and sucker for helping others. I want to talk a bit about the last three roles I’ve listed.
A number of factors culminated in my decision to work on “Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan: A Graphic Novel to Help Our Fallen.” I come from a family with a long and diverse history of volunteerism, military and otherwise. Having lots of friends in the armed forces, I learned pretty quickly without even the benefit of psychology courses that those who felt they could speak openly about their wartime experiences to an open, unbiased, but supportive ear generally fared much better emotionally than those who felt they had to keep a stiff upper lip. A book I highly recommend that chronicles people’s experiences with Hurricane Katrina, “AD: New Orleans After the Deluge” showed me just how effectively the comic book medium can help real people deal with their trauma and show readers what their experiences were really like. Without sound bites, without commercial breaks, without the interruptions of other “breaking news,” or any pundits’ commentary, the comic book offered readers a chance to take all the time they’d need to fully digest what they’d see- both the images and unflinching accounts of what happened. Respect for the people whose struggles, losses, and even deaths were chronicled on those pages demanded I take that chance. I could imagine how such a book relating real war stories might help veterans cope while making people much more acutely aware of the realities of war.
Not long after that, while bumbling along on the internet looking for opportunities to write, I stumbled upon something similar but much better and far greater in scope- an invitation to work on a such a graphic novel forum for our veterans. An opportunity to set aside all my preconceived notions of the wars and simply relay their stories. A chance for my work to, instead of earn me a paycheck, make a much greater difference and raise money for our veterans. An invitation to write for “Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan.” I jumped at that chance.
The complete lack of pay for the work I ended up putting into this made my decision perhaps not the greatest career choice ever, but I can’t put a monetary price on what I have learned and gained from the ensuing experience. The trust it takes for the veterans I’ve known to open up and share their often difficult reminisces came to mean much more to me than ever before. The prospect of working with some legends of the comic book industry was mere icing on the cake. What meant the most to me was working with people like Kyle Hausmann-Stokes and Michael “Sudsy” Sutherland to make sure I did their stories all proper justice. It already means a lot when someone trusts me to hear their recollections. For them to trust me with scripting these for a book, for posterity, for helping other veterans… well! The words “sacred trust” came to mind.
From what I’ve seen and learned of the other writers and artists participating in this project, they proved themselves worthy of that trust. I can only hope I did as well.