Max Uriarte, who created Terminal Lance, a web comic wildly popular among military service members, is now enjoying mainstream success with his first graphic novel.
The L.A.-based Uriarte has earned a devoted following among Marines and other members of the armed forces for mining humor from the not-so-glamorous sides of life in uniform. The White Donkey is a slight departure from the long-running web comic, following the Terminal Lance character 'Abe' through pre-deployment training at Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, through a combat tour in Iraq, and finally to Abe's homecoming from war.
As the Marine Corps Times noted, The White Donkey is where Terminal Lance "gets serious."
Here the humor is mixed with the monotony of deployments, the tension of whether or not to pull the trigger in combat, dealing with the death of a comrade, the collapse of family and romantic relationships, alcohol abuse, and even suicidal thoughts.
Uriarte's own experiences have shaped his work from the beginning. He first deployed to Iraq in 2007 as a Marine assaultman, and returned for a second tour as a combat photographer and artist. Just a few months before leaving active duty as a Lance Corporal, Uriarte started publishing his web comic online.
The term "Terminal Lance" refers to some who's topped-out in the Marine Corps promotion-wise as a Lance Corporal—a relatively low-ranking enlisted Marine.
To self-publish his graphic novel Uriarte set up a Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $160,000. He put 3,000 copies for sale online and they sold out in about a day and a half. That got the attention of the publishing house Little, Brown and Company which began large-scale publication of the graphic novel.
Uriarte says his goal has always been to share the experience of what life in the Marine Corps is like.
"What [The White Donkey] does – that the web comic also does -- is really capture the essential experience of being in the Marine Corps," he said. "Like what does this mean to be a Marine? What is this experience all about?"
Uriarte's work came to the attention of Mauricio Machuca, who's part-owner of Santa Monica comic book shop Hi De Ho Comics. Machuca's older brother is a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps who had to be medically evacuated from Afghanistan, and he said the Terminal Lance comics provided some laughs during his brother's recovery.
"Max is giving a voice to this side of the veterans’ story that really hasn’t been told yet in a graphic novel form," Machuca said.