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Fans of the Marine Corps-centric “Terminal Lance” helped its creator Max Uriarte raise the seed money for his newest project, a graphic novel set to debut this summer. But don’t expect the sardonic, absurdist humor of Terminal Lance here.
The novel, “The White Donkey,” will make over Terminal Lance’s main characters, Abe and Garcia, in a more realistic fashion, telling a story taken from life but also rich with symbolism.
“It’s a serious, realistic story of a Marine and his adventures in the Marine Corps,” Uriarte, 27, told Marine Corps Times in an interview, adding that the story would take the reader through pre-deployment training to combat in Iraq and then the often difficult return home. “I wanted to highlight the struggles that Marines can go through.”
The novel’s name is based on something that really happened to Uriarte in Iraq. He was in a convoy on one of his first mounted patrols when the line of vehicles came to a sudden halt, just southeast of Fallujah. There, in the center of the road, was a pure white donkey, sauntering at its own pace in the same direction as the Marines.
“I remember that moment just stuck in my head,” he said. “All the might and power of the United States military, and then this benign white donkey.”
In his book, Uriarte hinted that the donkey takes on a larger, more symbolic meaning.
The White Donkey will also confront a topic that has become close to Uriarte’s heart: the specters of post-traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt for troops returning from combat. Three of Uriarte’s Marine Corps friends have taken their own lives since he left the service, a tragedy he has addressed poignantly in posts on his website. But the book isn’t pushing a “message” per se, he said.
“It’s more about telling a story that may or may not inspire somebody to get some kind of help if they need it,” he said.
Uriarte said each page of the book took between five and nine hours to draw, but the project was delayed when he decided to scrap the story he’d written and do a full re-write, unwilling to settle for something he wasn’t happy with.
Uriarte debuted his original Terminal Lance strip in 2010, when he was still an active-duty lance corporal. The rough-edged comic, which embraces Marine Corps jargon, inside jokes, and everyday frustrations, was a runaway success. But Uriarte said he never envisioned himself as a career comic artist, preferring instead the depth of full-length graphic novels and animation.
To that end, he began a Kickstarter project last year, asking his readers to donate to his upcoming project. His initial goal was $20,000; but when his fans blew past that figure, he set his sights higher. In the end, he raised $162,000, enough to fully fund his work on the novel and lay the groundwork for his dream of opening his own animation studio.
Eventually, Uriarte hopes to turn The White Donkey into an animated series, though he’s still not sure whether he would pursue publishing such a series independently online or try to work with a major studio or network.
The White Donkey doesn’t yet have a release date — it’s nearly 220 pages so far, and Uriarte is still working on it — but he said he expects the book to be done this summer with a planned initial run of 5,000 copies. Some 2,000 of those will go to his Kickstarter supporters, he said.
If you didn’t participate in the project and want your own copy, you can find out how to get one at Terminallance.com.