‘Guantanamo Voices’ wins the 2021 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize

The anthology details stories told to Sarah Mirk by the prisoners, lawyers, officials and others connected to the notorious prison.

Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison, the graphic novel anthology that tells the stories of several veterans, prisoners, lawyers and government officials with connections to Guantanamo Bay prison, has won the 2021 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize.

The prize is awarded by Penn State University Libraries and the winner is chosen by a jury. Sarah Mirk wrote and edited the graphic novel, and worked with a variety of artists on the different stories it contains, including Nomi Kane, Hazel Newlevant, Gerardo Alba, Alexandra Beguez, Omar Khouri, Maki Naro, Jeremy Nguyen, Tracy Chahwan, Kane Lynch, Kasia Babis and Chelsea Saunders.

According to the write-up, jurors said Guantanamo Voices provides a “nuanced” look at the prison and the American judicial system:

Jurors called this book “a solid example of graphic journalism that gives a voice to the lives touched by the Guantanamo Bay prison, from prisoners and lawyers to social workers and military officers. The stories — of those tortured by the American justice system or on the ‘wrong side’ of the government’s agenda — are nuanced, not setting up a clear good and evil but instead laying out the details in an honest and thought-provoking, sometimes shocking and often haunting way. Each narrative was created from first-hand interviews and illustrated by a separate artist. The unique styles of each artist create a purposefully jarring effect that keeps the reader unsettled and engaged emphasizing the individuality and humanity represented in each story. Mirk and her team of artists beautifully and painfully bring these stories out of the shadows to remind readers of the cruel and indiscriminate acts of rushing to justice by the American judicial system.”

Mirk will receive a $2,500 prize and, courtesy of the Library of America, the two-volume set of “Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts” at a forthcoming event.

“One of the big problems about Guantanamo is that the place doesn’t exist to a lot of Americans. It’s not on our radar because we don’t have images of it,” Mirk told Alex Dueben last year. “When you think Guantanamo you probably think of that photo that was taken in 2002 of men in orange jumpsuits with their hands shackled behind a fence at Camp X-Ray. That photo is 18 years old! What is it like today? What’s going on now? That’s something we need to make visible and make real to people. This place is an ongoing part of our history. Comics are good at making visible a place that’s not very visible. Also humanizing the people that are there. Everything around Guantanamo is so loaded and so political that even trying to say anything as a fact is hard. Everyone says different things, so who do you believe? I wanted to make it clear in the book that each story is from the person’s perspective and each story is true to this person. A lot of what they say in the book contradicts the official Bush administration line, the official Obama administration line, the official Trump administration line, but it’s their experience. They’re talking about what happened to them. As a reporter it’s clear for me to say, ‘This is the person’s story.’ It is not a general statement about what everyone experienced. This is what this person did and what they saw and what they experience and this is how they felt about it.” 

In addition to Graphic Novel prize, the committee also chose two “honor” books: Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang and Welcome to the New World by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan.

The Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize is presented annually to the best graphic novel, fiction or nonfiction, published in the previous calendar year by a living U.S. or Canadian citizen or resident. Named for artist Lynd Ward, it honors his influence in the development of the graphic novel and celebrates the gift of an extensive collection of Ward’s wood engravings, original book illustrations and other graphic art donated to Penn State’s University Libraries by his daughters Robin Ward Savage and Nanda Weedon Ward. Between 1929 and 1937, Ward published his six groundbreaking wordless novels: “Gods’ Man,” “Madman’s Drum,” “Wild Pilgrimage,” “Prelude to a Million Years,” “Song without Words” and “Vertigo.”

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