In 2003, a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo, freed by the bombs pummeling the city. Starving, they roam the city, trying to find prey, fresh water, and a place to hide from the tanks and soldiers. They argue over whether it is ethical to eat the corpse of a fallen inhabitant of the city. They cower in terror when the tanks rumble by, chewing up the land. They stumble into Saddam’s palatial ruins, and find other miserable wild animals chained there. It’s a harsh and confusing world, especially for lions that have been captives for the majority of their lives.
This is an interesting perspective on the devastation of war. The drawings are crisp, bright, and gruesome at times. The lions are rough, with a distinctively wild tone to their conversations. Don’t let the illustrations and the characters fool you: this isn’t for young people. There’s an odd moment of lion sex, a headless giraffe, and bloody corpses scattered throughout. The first time I read it, I didn’t like it at all: I was put off by the characterization of the lions and confused by the random sex. However, my partner loved it. She pointed out that it could be allegorical for the short freedom of the Iraqi people after they were freed from Saddam’s reign. I can totally see that now, after reflecting on it for a day.
I have to say, this is a very unique take on the story, and it is based on true events: American soldiers did actually shoot and kill starving lions, escaped from the zoo, in Baghdad. It’s not a light or cuddly read, though. However, it’s definitely worth a look.
Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon. Pride of Baghdad. New York: Vertigo, 2006. 138 pp. 16 and up.