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JBLM soldier in dark tale

Soldiers’ stories told in The ‘Stan and Machete Squad graphic novels

Artwork by Per Darwin Berg, illustrator of the graphic novel Machete Squad. The graphic novel is an account of Army veteran Brent Dulak’s military experiences as a medic while deployed to Afghanistan.

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There's a certain power that comes with storytelling, for both storytellers and audiences, regardless of whether the story unfolds around a campfire, in the pages of a book, or on a canvas. And when stories are told through multiple artistic media, magic happens: tellers feel catharsis, audiences experience empathy and dialogue blossoms about issues often ignored in our society. For all these reasons and more, storytelling through graphic novels -- a medium in which written words and visual arts combine -- can be a powerful tool for military veterans and servicemembers coping with the stresses of military life.

Graphic novel creators Brent Dulak, a former JBLM soldier, Kevin Knodell, and Per Darwin Berg are putting that idea to the test next week with the release of Machete Squad and The ‘Stan, two brand-new graphic novels about military life and war, featuring Dulak's experiences as a soldier.

"This is a hyper-local event, as far as the creators go," said Michael Fitzgerald, owner of Destiny City Comics. "These are true war stories, which you don't see too many of nowadays. These stories can appeal to anyone because they're honest."

The ‘Stan and Machete Squad release event will take place at Destiny City Comics Saturday, Sept. 15. The event includes a panel discussion with Dulak and Knodell, the co-writers of both graphic novels, and Berg, the illustrator of Machete Squad. A Q&A session and book signings will follow the panel discussion.

The ‘Stan, which is published by Dead Reckoning (a publishing imprint of Naval Institute Press), is a collection of short comics about the Afghanistan War. The comics inside are based on reporting by journalists David Axe and Knodell and are illustrated by Blue Delliquanti.

"The ‘Stan is told over the course of many years, telling the stories of many people in many parts of Afghanistan with many different jobs," said Knodell, who regularly covers conflict, crime and culture in his work as a journalist. "You're getting the deleted scenes of the Afghanistan War ... they're stories that may not be newsworthy but are still human stories. They still matter and can give people perspective on what it's like for (U.S.) military personnel, Afghan civilians and Afghan military over there (in Afghanistan)."

Machete Squad is an account of Army veteran Brent Dulak's military experiences as an Army medic. It's a darkly humorous and honest portrayal of Dulak as he fought to stay alive and sane while warfighting.  

"There are common themes between these comic books, but they're also very different," said Knodell. "Machete Squad turns some of the tropes and common themes we see in (military) stories on their head. The usual military memoir is about a doe-eyed kid from Kansas enlisting and going off to war to learn that people can be horrible to each other -- it's a ‘loss of innocence' narrative.

"Whereas in Machete Squad, which is written from Brent (Dulak)'s perspective -- someone who went to Afghanistan after he deployed twice to Iraq -- we're showing the public that we've been doing this (going to war) for a while and our men and women in uniform feel that. They're feeling the effects of embarking on open-ended conflicts."

In addition to his training as an Army medic, Dulak also graduated from University of Washington School of Medicine. He was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord before exiting the Army. Now, he works as an emergency medicine physician's assistant in Las Vegas.

Knodell continues to work in journalism. His writing has appeared in Vice, The Week and Soldier of Fortune, and he's a former contributing editor at Although originally from Portland, Oregon, Knodell lives in Tacoma. He holds a B.A. in history from Pacific Lutheran University (PLU).

Guests attending the The ‘Stan and Machete Squad release event are encouraged to join the graphic novel creators at Doyle's Public House for drinks following the event.

The ‘Stan and Machete Squad graphic novel release, 3-7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 15, Destiny City Comics, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma, 253.234.7112,
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