In POPPIES OF IRAQ,  Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim intermingle the author and her parent’s own experiences growing up and living in Mosul, a town that no longer exists. Then, she mixes this personal history in with the history of their home country, Iraq.  The world painted in POPPIES seems simple when seen through a child’s eyes. It is the adult Findakly’s perspective, a narrative over her childhood experiences, that gently explains the grim realities of war that surrounded her.

This willingness to be vulnerable allows Findakly to explore her childhood in a way that feels nostalgic but honest. As a result, Findakly’s intricate storytelling, mixed with Trondheim’s unique illustration style, make POPPIES a hidden gem in the graphic novel world.

LISTEN: Looking for more autobiographical graphic novels? Check out our podcast on Alison Bechdel’s FUN HOME!

Narrative Gold

The opening panels of POPPIES work as an excellent narrative exposition to set up the simple yet gorgeous atmosphere which continues throughout the entire novel.

Image courtesy of Drawn and Quarterly.

The timeline of POPPIES skips around a bit. First, it opens on Findakly’s remembrances of her family’s Friday picnics at Nimrud, a historical site outside of Mosul. Then, she switches to her parents meeting while her father attended dentistry school in Paris. In addition, the story includes inserted pages outlining significant cultural practices in Iraq. While this non-linear narrative might not work for a novel or essay, it adds something special to the medium of the graphic novel. Consequently, the disjointed organization of the comic provides a genuine atmosphere for the memoir style of storytelling.

READ: Want to hear more about Iraq and comics? Read our interview with Said Alnasseri!

Neutrality of Naturalism

The cover and first page of POPPIES set an ambiance for the rest of the novel. Trondheim utilizes the signature red of poppies to color these pages. Not only does this color choice splash life into the titular poppies, but it also acts a vehicle for the idea of war, loss, and grief that is sprinkled throughout Findakly and Iraq’s history.

Image courtesy of Drawn and Quarterly.

The coloring of the subsequent pages follows a more neutral and naturalist color palette. This emphasizes Findakly’s down-to-earth, accessible storytelling. By choosing a palette filled with primaries and neutrals, Trondheim and Findakly keep the art in tune with the colors of normal urban life. Plus, there are other ways Findakly and Trondheim use art to create an approachable atmosphere for their book.

Most noteworthy, they utilize a mixed media approach by adding in several pages of Findakly’s family photographs. Often I find that graphic novels, biographies, or fiction sometimes pull the reader a little too far away from the realities of the story. Additionally, the inclusion of Findakly’s family photos allows the reader to reach an almost tangible sense of her reality.

Authentic Characterization

Of course, POPPIES is an autobiographical account, so the characterization of young Findakly and her family comes naturally.

Image Courtesy of Drawn and Quarterly.

In addition, Iraq acts as a character itself in this novel. By including pages of “In Iraq,” where cultural customs or bits of history are explained, Findakly and Trondheim create new, intimate knowledge of the country. The author allows her personal connections and experiences with the cultural customs to come through her story. This allows the reader to view it as a character they have gotten to know and now care for.

POPPIES OF IRAQ – Not Just a Flower

After WWI, the British began to use the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. One of the first images the reader sees is an illustration of the main character running with a handful of poppies. To me, this serves as a nod to the remembrances that litter POPPIES. Findakly and Trondheim invite us to be vulnerable alongside them as they explore the intricacies of the past. Finally, POPPIES OF IRAQ is an experience that sheds light on not only the life of the author but also the history of a country.

POPPIES OF IRAQ can be found at and is available for purchase.

POPPIES OF IRAQ successfully invites readers to explore new perspectives on the past. Brigitte Findakly opens up her childhood with vulnerability. Lewis Trondheim accents Findakly's storytelling with adorable, yet naturalistic illustrations that catch the eye. Together, the two have put together a graphic novel to capture our hearts.
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