Fear and Loathing in the Gulf
By Max Dunbar.
Arts and Mines: From Hell and Beyond, A Personal Odyssey, Glenn Fitzpatrick, Aerocomm 2010
‘All I could hope was that the guard at the time would not be able to spot that I was on heroin as I walked back into the barracks.’ This is not a sentence you are likely to find in any other military memoir. Arts and Mines is more Buffalo Soldiers than Andy McNab: Fear and Loathing in the Gulf. For Glenn ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick the liberation of Kuwait began with a long tank drive from Saudi Arabia to Iraq. No sleep, no stops unless your tank broke down. After eighteen hours Fitzy was actually hallucinating with fatigue – the drawing on the facing page captures this perfectly, surreal landscapes floating in the foreground of bloodshot, sunken soldier’s eyes.
There is darkness, naturally, during the war and beyond. Fitzy remembers one comrade stripping a wristwatch from a dead Iraqi. The realisation that the enemy were people similar to himself who wanted the same things he did and that ‘the blood we tasted was the same as our own.’ Fitzy left after Iraq, but readjusted badly. It was the familiar story of unemployment, excess and breakdown. (Christ knows what the veterans of the second Gulf War have to look forward to.) In his late twenties he suffered relentless headaches. There was a cyst on the base of his brain. The treatment is illustrated for nine straight pages. The jagged monochrome interiors of theatres and wards make for an unsettling contrast to the author’s previous technicolour adventures.
Fitzy found a new life in art college and developed the style that resonates throughout the book: obvious, scruffy, but memorable and effective. A piece called ‘Exposure’ shows a talent for subtlety and detail. The picture is crowded out by undergraduates in outlandish clothes, pouring pints down their necks. Almost off the frame, a student reads Jean Baudrillard’s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. It’s both a wry dig at postmodernism and a bridge between Fitzgerald’s old life and the new.
Arts and Mines isn’t quite a graphic novel, more a series of images with running commentary. The drawings cover the most memorable moments of Fitzy’s life, many of them illustrated anecdotes of his time in the services and beyond. The style is somewhere between squaddie jokes and raver jokes. Even during the Gulf war, there is a rim of canehead humour to it all, particularly the incident where Fitzy trips out on regulation meds under the desert sun. ‘[The commander] told me that the ones I had taken were for the likes of gunshot wounds and he also realised that I wasn’t fit to drive.’
‘On reflection,’ Fitzgerald writes, ‘self evolution can be a funny thing. We all have a personal journey to get through’. His book is a portrait of the most vivid moments from that journey: we probably all see a similar shutter-parade of personal memories in the seconds before we die.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Max Dunbar was born in London in 1981. He recently finished a full-length novel and his short fiction has appeared in various print and web journals including Open Wide, Straight from the Fridge and Lamport Court. He also writes articles on politics and religion for Butterflies and Wheels. He is Manchester’s regional editor of Succour magazine, a journal of new fiction and poetry, and reviews editor of 3:AM.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, March 18th, 2010.