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VFW Magazine August 2017 : Page 19

D rawing has been a part of Mike Rodriguez’s life since childhood, but a wound that ended his mil-itary career also put his illustrator tendencies on hold. Rodriguez, who served in Iraq from June to November 2004, with Bravo Co., 1st Bn., 8th Marines, as a rifleman, was wounded on Thanksgiving Day 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq. He was shot, losing nerve feeling and fine-motor skills on his right side. His shoulder was dislocated, he said, and he nearly lost his right leg to compartment syndrome (pressure build-up in muscles), among other shrapnel injuries. His initial recovery took about eight months to one year. “It was years before I could stop wear-ing my hand brace,” Rodriguez said. “It still hurts, pins and needles non-stop, and I’m pretty limited in things I can do with it. My shoulder still dislocates on occa-sion, and my right leg tingles a lot from the peripheral nerve damage caused by a double fasciotomy.” A fasciotomy is a procedure in which connective tissue, or fascia, is removed to relieve pressure. Roughly two years after he was wounded, Rodriguez returned to draw-ing to challenge himself, initially using his left hand. “Just being able to [draw] again is a huge second chance in some respects,” Rodriguez said. “I was retired [from the Marines] because I couldn’t be a rifleman anymore. I just didn’t have the ability to handle a rifle.” Rodriguez is using his artistic talent in his thesis at Dartmouth College, where he is creating a 150-page comic about energy and national security. A partner-ship between the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) in White River Junction, Va., and the White River Junction VA Medical Center afforded him another opportunity. The two organizations began working together in 2015 to bring artists and vet-erans together to create comics that tell veterans’ stories. J.D. Lunt, co-editor of When I Returned , the first anthology to publish the comics, said CCS Director James Sturm had been volunteering at the VA, which initiated the partnership. The idea to focus specifically on veter-ans, according to Lunt, was due to White River Junction being a “very tiny town.” Because two of its larger institutions are CCS and the VA, it was a natural collab-oration. Lunt, along with co-editor Kelly Swann, headed the project for its first antholo-gy, which included the stories of veterans who agreed to be interviewed and have their stories turned into comic form. Rodriguez was one of two veterans who contributed his own artwork to the anthology, which was partially funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. While most of the comics focus on experiences while serving in or after returning from war, Rodriguez took a dif-ferent approach. Along with Iona Fox, his partner from CCS, he looked at how vet-erans and non-veterans interact, through the lens of his interaction with Fox. In the background of the drawings, Rodriguez said, there are stylized photos that a combat photographer took when Rodriguez was overseas. But the piece also includes glimpses of his current job at a library, “interacting with professors and being an illustrator.” Rodriguez said the focus on a comic as opposed to a more traditional format is “another form of communicating a story.” “What’s cool about comics is you can do a lot of stuff simultaneously,” Rodriguez said. “You can break time and space because you have a visual that exists there on the page.” Vietnam War-inspired Comic Doesn’t ‘Pull Any Punches’ Vietnam veteran Don Lomax took a job along a paper route just to buy comics. The visuals drew him in, and he never looked back. Lomax, who served from 1966-67 with the 98th Light Equipment Maintenance Company as a wheel and track vehicle mechanic, has done comic work for mag-azines, such as Easy Rider , and also had a stint with Marvel. Lately, though, Lomax has resurrected Vietnam Journal , his own creation that started in 1987 and ran through the 1990s. Mike Cantron, then-editor of Apple Comics, suggested a Vietnam comic, which Lomax said was “right down my alley.” It was around the time that the movie “Platoon” was popular, and “Vietnam kind of had a lit-tle excitement around it back in that time.” The main character is a journalist, and Lomax said he chose to view the war through that lens because the press had “an unbelievable freedom” in Vietnam. “That allowed the main character to go anywhere in Vietnam and cover a lot of sto-ries that way rather than being stuck with one unit,” Lomax said. Lomax’s experience serving in Vietnam gave him “a good appreciation of the grunts on the ground” for the comic. Rated mature, Vietnam Journal is “an opportunity for somebody to grab the book and pass it on,” Lomax said. “I hope that they can have a look at what war’s really about,” Lomax said, “and I don’t pull any punches.” HOW THE PROJECT STARTED For Rodriguez, the fact that illustrat-ing is a “creative enterprise” is what he enjoys about it. “You get to produce something,” Rodriguez said. “It’s also challenging. It’s not as easy for me as it certainly used to be before the injury. Both of those com-bined, I think, it’s a fulfilling thing.” Lunt said he was drawn to the project because he enjoys working on non-fic-When I Returned To purchase this comic anthology, visit https://gumroad.com/l/whenireturned. Vietnam veteran Don Lomax is bringing back his comic, Vietnam Journal . Originally published from the late 1980s to 1990s, the comic tells stories from the war through the eyes of a journalist. AUGUST 2017   • WWW.VFW.ORG • 19

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