Graphic novel travelogues are often either intense, journalistic affairs (think Joe Sacco), poignant memoirs or flippant almost accidental trips into adventure. Nicolas Wild’s Kabul Disco definitely falls into the latter. The story starts with Nicolas applying for and getting a job as a cartoonist and graphic designer for a small publishing outfit operating out of Afghanistan in 2005, as the American occupiers attempt to stabilise the region so they can withdraw. He falls into the situation because he’s being turned out of his rented flat and sees the opportunity for a bit of adventure.
When he eventually arrives, he spends most of his time either working or kicking his heels in his work’s accommodation, unable to leave due to an army-enforced curfew. There are snippets of Afghan life and observations, but this is more about the life and privileges of expats than the locals, with which Nicolas has little contact.
This is ultimately a little disappointing, as the story searches for a hook, dredging the depths of proximity to danger, including murder and kidnap, but never having it actually happen to Nicolas or his close friends.
The art is fine for the job, with a cartoonish feel and a punchline on each page. This makes every page a self-contained episode, which is very digestible but again does little for the gravitas, feeling more like a long Sunday newspaper strip than a journalistic endeavour.
It ultimately feels a tad shallow, though. The trials and tribulations of a war zone are reduced to the minutiae of a person who isn’t involved. He rallies against some of the pro-army work he does as an employee but is hardly making a stance. Perhaps there’s greater depth to come in the follow-up, as this is the first book of a planned series, but as it stands there isn’t enough going on here to draw me back for more.