East of Aleppo: bread, bombs and video clips

Writer and cartoonist Brick distils the chaotic and far-flung elements behind the 2016 bombing of a Syrian bakery in this pamphlet.

Creator: Brick
Publisher: Five Leaves Graphic

The Syrian Civil War is perhaps the most complex ongoing conflict in recent memory. Its origin can be traced back to 2011 during the violent Arab Spring protests, and it has since developed into a multi-sided arena of factions allied with and against the government, led by President Bashar al-Assad.

As an outsider, it’s difficult to stay updated with the situation in Syria via mainstream media outlets. Unless it has a direct implication upon Western politics or culture – e.g. the refugee crisis – we hear very little about events happening daily in places other than major cities like Damascus and Aleppo.

One such event was the bombing of a bakery in a village east of Aleppo in 2016. Largely ignored by the media at the time, writer and cartoonist Brick (Depresso) has taken it upon himself to wade through the maelstrom of truths and untruths to assemble a possible sequence of events that culminated in the attack.

The result is East of Aleppo: Bread, Bombs and Video Clips, the first pamphlet published by Five Leaves Graphic. Taking an holistic approach, Brick attempts to show the points-of-view of all those involved in the events leading up to the bakery bombing.

After Daesh occupy a village bakery without any shots being fired, it stirs unrest in the area. Fighters return home at the request of their cousins – deserters from Assad’s army – to drive Daesh from the village, but they need weapons to do so. Using a sponsor in Saudi Arabia, they can acquire weapons from dealers from Eastern Europe or the British and American military.

Images courtesy of Brick and Five Leaves Graphic

Amidst the chaos, drones fly over the village preparing to strike. But British, American and Middle Eastern forces are unsure of who to attack and where they might be. When the order to bomb the bakery is eventually given, it’s already too late to know who exactly would be hit.

Drawn in stark black-and-white, Brick makes full use of the medium to illustrate how the chaotic and far-flung elements of this story come together to a violent conclusion. Thousands of miles are traversed between panels as we see drone pilots in a base in Lincolnshire communicate with forces in Syria, while villagers and insurgents scramble for weapons and safety.

He has taken great care to show the points-of-view of all involved, but with so many characters responsible for, or affected by, the attack, East of Aleppo can be confusing at times. The dialogue is exposition-heavy and laden with military acronyms, and while Brick explains each one, the pamphlet straddles a line between educational and chaotic. But that’s most likely the point.

East of Aleppo’s biggest strength is the fact that it exists at all. Stories like this attack are rarely told by the media in their entirety; stories about the UK’s involvement in Syria are typically neglected altogether. A Google search provides little to elucidate. To make sense of what happened Brick trawled through “articles, broadcasts and documentaries”, and even then he was unable to paint a complete picture.

As such, the pamphlet is frustrating in its brevity. Not because it feels underdeveloped or unfinished in itself, but because the full story of the attack just doesn’t exist. It wasn’t prepared as material for a comics story. But, thanks to people like Brick, the details that can be strung together are fully realised by the medium. And short pamphlets like East of Aleppo are an ideal format to increase awareness about them.

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