Review: Invisible Wounds: Graphic Journalism
by Jess Ruliffson. Fantagraphics, November 2022. 184 p. ill. ISBN 978-1-68396-190-1 (h/c), $24.99.
Jess Ruliffson’s full-length debut takes an unshrinking look at the experiences of returning U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Each of the book’s twelve chapters presents an illustrated account in the voice of a different veteran, all of whom were interviewed by Rulifsson personally over a period of five years as the author traveled the country as part of her comics journalism project. Through her sensitive characterization and evocative graphic vignettes, Ruliffson brings to life the stories of soldiers from a range of backgrounds, including those who had to conceal their identities under controversial policies, gave into peer pressure in volatile situations, endured repercussions for exposing sexual assault in their units, faced challenges in obtaining supportive gender transition services, and struggled to find employment and maintain relationships stateside.
Invisible Wounds can be a challenging read – not just because of the subject matter. Each veteran’s story is compiled from reordered excerpts of expansive oral interviews conducted by Ruliffson, making the narrative arcs of the chapters sometimes jarringly disjointed. In addition, Ruliffson’s artwork, while expressive, occasionally lacks sufficient detail to be able to visually identify the chapter’s protagonist across various panels. The sketchy yet evocative scenes, however, drawn in a palette dominated by oranges, browns, and blues, are ultimately fitting for documenting emotional stories recounted from memory.
Imperfect but powerful, Invisible Wounds is an important work that belongs in academic libraries and art and design school collections alike, especially for institutions with programs in visual communication, journalism, creative nonfiction writing, or comic/cartoon studies. Moreover, the book’s poignant depiction of veterans’ experiences also suggests it could find resonance among veterans themselves, making it a worthwhile addition for libraries looking to support and engage veterans in their communities. America has only begun to grapple with the impacts of its 21st-century forever wars, and Ruliffson brings the complex and often overlooked realities of veterans’ post-service life into sharp focus.
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