Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends Guillaume Singelin’s ‘PTSD’, available now from First Second Books.

Cover to ‘PTSD’. Art: Guillaume Singelin/First Second Books

by Arpad OkayJun, sharpshooter, combat-wounded veteran, hard case, shield, brings war back home with her. She’s submerged in violence, and it’s a problem with an undertow that threatens to not only drown her, but her entire community.

PTSD starts sad but clean and grows muddled, muddy. Jun, like all the other homeless vets on the street, needs pills to stop the stress. The black market that sells these pills exploits the need of the vagabond soldiers. Jun pushes back with robberies, the criminal organization lashes out in retribution, bullets fly, bones break, and things spin out of control.

The action thrills. The raids, the confrontation, shootouts, showdowns, they’re not moral plays to show the reader that violence is wrong. The loss of connection to world and purpose war has put Jun through hurts her soul, but harming enemies exalts. The trauma of combat haunts her, but when Jun is killing she occupies her timeless place of peace. Jun’s state of grace is bloody horror.

Guillaume Singelin writes it like no one else. Savoring the pain, romanticizing the killing; not a thoughtless championing of bloodlust, not ham-fisted war worship, but not denying some soldiers are born to kill. PTSD is a look at both sides of the coin—the real damage done by those whose calling is dealing out death—without dictating to the reader how they should feel.

It’s not a coin, it’s a circle, a cycle. Panic turns to rage becomes despair. Feeling powerless feeds anger, leaves you feeling powerless. This is PTSD, and in PTSD, Jun breaks the chain by giving in to her impulse to kill. Violence is power, not powerlessness. Violence is familiar. Violence is flow, the yolk of time removed, not the trap of empty days and chemical dependence.

Soldiers are reborn by enduring trauma for the greater good. They kill for peace. Tragic is the fate that this rebirth to serve society means they cannot rejoin it. There is no room for killers in peacetime. Abandoned by the world they kept safe, a fringe world comes together on the street, in the alley, under the bridge. In the trash, the dumpster, the realm of the discarded.

The moment there is emotional breakthrough, violence erupts as the thunderclap that follows the light. It is an atypical arc PTSD creates for Jun. She lashes out, spreading her pain. Regret, an attempt to mend, and then fear of penance being insufficient. To try to reset the bonds you break means facing the fallout of the mess you’ve created. The desire to uncouple with the past does not grant you the freedom to walk away from it. Maybe Jun never can, fully.

Singelin’s art style is a compelling choice to tell this particular tale, familiar and fresh at the same time. The unflinching drama and violence draw a tight dynamic against the childish wonder of the world as Singelin draws it. Jun’s big Scott Pilgrim, Cartoon Network potato head, her Renaissance study hands. Scuffed elbows, wrinkled clothes, worry lines on troubled brow. Super cute dragged through a gutter.

The watercolors are muted, warm not bright, cool without shock, the end of summer on the edge of the ocean, the shadow of a building or a shrine, or electric night. Hesitant brushes leave haloes at the contours.

Every panel is a feast, evidence of superb attention to detail. A dense, living city. Asian in influence, Geoff Darrow in execution. The sense that the world hasn’t been created for the characters, but a place they occupy. A crowded, dreamy metropolis, high rise buildings encircling open air market food sellers’ bazaar, with concrete roots dropped straight into the water or the woods. Dark circulatory system of alleys, tiered balconies, underpass tent towns. Detritus everywhere.

Character design is just as meticulous. Every outfit has layers, accessories, signature touches that make dealer, delinquent, and tramp alike unique, keepers of a secret story, a singular style. Singelin is a designer. This is as much a part of his storytelling as the plot.

PTSD is not going to tell you. Its job is to show. Yours is to ask why. Why is this happening? Why am I seeing this? Jun, is there any way out?

First Second Books / $24.99

Written by Guillaume Singelin.

Illustrated by Guillaume Singelin.

Enjoy this 9-page preview of ‘PTSD’, courtesy of First Second Books!

More Required Reading…

‘Jesusfreak’ kick-punch-flip-stabs its way to the center of moral quandary, is victorious

‘Crowded’ a far-too fun ride though a hellish, commodified future

‘Shit is Real’ an exploration of identity cloaked in black humor and light psychedelics