Controversial London based artist Darren Cullen has just released Join the Army – his first self-published publication, a satirical ‘anti-army recruitment comic’ which charts many of the perplexing reasons a young recruit might want to sign-up and potentially lose life or limb in the decade long wars of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The comic, which bears the slogan, “Army: Be the Meat” is about as subtle as a mortar attack, which the 30 year old claims is his attempt to counter pro-military advertising in the media.
“War is a living hell of suffering, pain and despair,” says Darren, “but somehow the Army manages to rebrand it for each new generation as an exciting and character-building adventure. Despite what they show in their adverts, being in a war isn’t about abseiling or kayaking, it’s about twisting your bayonet into someone’s stomach and having your face blown off in a trench.”
Despite the caustic nature of the work, it has received support from several ex-soldiers, including Joe Glenton, author of Soldier Box and the first British soldier to refuse to return to Afghanistan on legal and moral grounds, who describes the comic as, “brutal but true”.
Also supporting the project is Ben Griffin, who served in the British Army from 1997-2005, deployed to Northern Ireland, Macedonia & Afghanistan with 2 Para, Iraq with the SAS and who is now the Coordinator for Veterans For Peace UK.
I’m not attacking soldiers. I’m attacking the institutions which use soldiers to kill and be killed in order to achieve political and economic ends.
“When I first saw ‘Join The Army‘ I was impressed by how it managed to capture the dark humour of the soldier, the irrational nature of military life and the futility of war,” says Ben. “I thought the artist must be a veteran,” says Griffin, “This work is anything but absurd. The strip ‘Meanwhile in Afghanistan’ perfectly represents the lot of the Infantryman, long hours of monotony punctuated with sudden unforeseen violence. It is a direct challenge to the heroic nonsense peddled by our media. I hope that the honesty and humour of this work will encourage people to speak more freely about the important subjects the work raises.”
Drawing on comic artist influences such as Chris Ware and Steve Bell, as well as the political comics of the late 1960s, Cullen’s satire is often flippant and dark, framing the horrors of war with a gallows humour some may find offensive. It was rejected by three separate printing companies due to the content before he was able to find a printer that would take on the job. The comic has even roused the anger of the English Defence League, whose supporters regarded the comic as unpatriotic and disrespectful.
“I’ve had abuse from EDL supporters online,” says Cullen, “which makes me think I must be doing something right. But what they, and I’m sure others, will misunderstand about this is that I’m not attacking soldiers. I’m attacking the institutions which use soldiers to kill and be killed in order to achieve political and economic ends.”
Cullen is not a stranger to controversy, enraging the Daily Mail last year with his pregnant toy doll sculpture “Baby’s First Baby” (www.spellingmistakescostlives.com/babysfirstbaby). A degree show project saw him on the receiving end of a Sun campaign to have his anti-santa billboard scrapped. The billboard, bearing the slogan “Santa Gives More to Rich Kids than Poor Kids”, was eventually displayed for two weeks in Glasgow.
The comic’s publication costs were covered by a Kickstarter campaign which reached over 200% of its goal. The fundraising was needed in part to cover printing the unusual layout of the comic. Folded in a concertina style, the booklet unfolds to display a 1.5 metre Bayeux Tapestry style take on the Iraq war. The comic is also available as a deluxe edition, which contains an extra 16-page mini comic, army related flyers, an A3 poster for his equally satirical ‘Action Man: Battlefield Casualties’, as well as postcards and stickers.
Categories: British Comics