To Afghanistan and Back

A widely syndicated cartoonist and columnist for Universal Press Syndicate, New Yorker Ted Rall speaks his mind and, unlike other irreverent political cartoon satirists currently in vogue (Tom Tomorrow, Lloyd Dangle), doubles as an investigative reporter. For his efforts, Rall has twice won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and once finished as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

This fascinating, 112-page book features a mix of his eyewitness reporting from Afghanistan (originally printed in the Village Voice) broken up by cartoon panels of the same events; it’s an everyman style of reporting the Washington Post lauded as “excellent work.” In a terse, economical style with sardonic tangents aplenty, Rall recreates his daily life as a thrifty-bargain-hunting reporter in the hell that is war-torn Afghanistan—basically Anarchy 101 (murder and theft after dark).

Rall is not quite as capable an ironist as some of his contemporaries, and his drawing sometimes lacks cohesion (all the characters roughly look the same, which can be confusing)—but he nonetheless has a no-nonsense appeal bolstered by his willingness to discover for himself what most cartoonists merely discern from whatever trustworthy sources they can muster. And for that this informative “graphic travelogue” should be applauded.

Rall offers few answers here, but he is undeniably opposed to most American military action since 9-11—action that he has viewed firsthand as “pointless.” After reading his depiction of life with the Northern Alliance and Taliban ("they’re the same thing"), one is amazed he withstood the dangerous trip as long as he did. The book will tell you something about the mindset of modern war reporters (both crazy and courageous), and when Rall discusses oil implications for the region, things really get interesting in an “Oops, here comes another Vietnam” kinda way.

The book also features an introduction from TV talk show host Bill Maher (of the recently canceled Politically Incorrect).