The War for Kaleb
By Jason Pittman
The War for Kaleb is a story of one man’s struggle through a crippling anxiety disorder.
Kaleb has been battling an anxiety disorder for quite some time. After meeting a woman who he falls in love with, he begins to question the validity of his relationship due to the fact that he is medicated. Watching over Kaleb is a silent hero, who keeps his well being in check. After a drastic decision is made, Kaleb finds himself confronted by a dark character waiting for the chance to consume him.
Mindless escapism, am I right?
I mean, seriously, we’re all here right now because we have something in common- a deep and abiding love of comicbooks. We read comics, and we all know that even the best… scratch that, especially the best comics out there can be watered down and enjoyed on a very basic level, no deep thought required. Entertainment, at its purest form, is about letting the forebrain take a step back to catch its breath for a bit. There’s nothing wrong with it. That need to decompress from the daily grind is something all human beings share. Even the ones who aren’t as into comicbooks, however I’d like to go on the record as saying that those people will forever be a mystery to me.
I see a lot of titles that revel in that release from the responsibility of carrying a message, and it’s a good thing. I also get quite a few that do a fine job of slipping an underlying meaning into their stories, building layers of real meat to go along with the potatoes, and those are great too. Every now and then, I get my hands on a book that exists with the sole purpose of delivering useful and very necessary information, with the entertainment served up as the underlying factor. Those are the books that everyone should read, because it is so rare to see a well-written, well-illustrated comic that delivers on all fronts and is put out with the sole purpose of bringing a little more understanding into the world.
I got an email from Jason Pittman, asking if I would be able to take a look at his three part title, The War for Kaleb. There didn’t seem to be much by way of expectation from Jason, just a polite request highlighted by a desire to get word out- any word at all- about his book. His description of the book got my interest, as he described Kaleb as experiencing severe anxiety disorder and the book follows his struggle against it. In Kaleb’s case, that struggle takes the form of two super-powered figures, one light and one dark, engaged in a knock down drag out fight for dominance in Kaleb’s subconscious as he goes on about his daily life.
The War for Kaleb follows an introverted young man navigating the winding path of a social life in New York City. He’s helped along by his very outgoing, maybe occasionally over the top, best friend Mike, and his caring down to earth girlfriend Addey. Mike knows that Kaleb has had problems with anxiety in the past, and that he’s been taking medication for quite some time in order to suppress it. The story unfolds when Mike encourages Kaleb to open up to Addey about his past problems, to let her really get to know the real him. What he doesn’t expect is for Kaleb consider the possibility of going off of his medication for that exact reason.
Kaleb is concerned that the medications have done more than suppress his anxiety. He’s worried that they’ve subdued his emotions to the point that he’s started to wonder if his feelings for Addey are real, or just part of the disconnect they provide. When Kaleb decides to follow through and stops taking his meds, things start to go off the rails… not all at once, but gradually building into a crescendo until his life starts to barrel on out of his control.
Where the story really shines, on multiple levels, is in Pittman’s use of the two heroes, light and dark, as a symbolism for Kaleb’s inner fight. The light hero is there from the beginning, but he’s only observing, held at bay by Kaleb’s meds. The dark hero doesn’t rear up until Kaleb has made his decision, and at first, the two just circle each other, waiting for the inevitable fight to start. The clash occurs when Kaleb’s inner turmoil bubbles up and out in the form of a tirade against a loud-mouth on the subway.
In writing his story, Pittman uses multiple text boxes for Kaleb’s inner dialogue. As Kaleb’s emotional state gets more chaotic, the boxes start overlapping each other, making it hard for the reader to follow along with what’s actually going through Kaleb’s mind. It’s a perfect device to show that this is precisely what happens when someone experiencing that kind of anxiety starts to fold under its pressure. While it may not be a literal clash of inner voices, it shows the subconscious starts sending out opposing signals and emotional responses to what’s going on around the individual. In this case, it’s Kaleb having trouble dealing with all of the external stimuli of crowded settings and lacking the coping mechanisms needed to keep from personalizing simple human contact. The pressure builds, and eventually Kaleb starts to act out against everyone around him.
Visually, the two opposing “heroes” are an outstanding use of symbolism to show the conflict Kaleb starts to experience. We see the animosity the dark has for the light, the latter not so much interested in an actual fight as he is in just insulating Kaleb from the anger represented by the former. What I thought was a great touch was in the details of the fights. We’re talking Superman vs Zodd kinds of fights, complete with property damage to spare as these two super-powered beings clash… meanwhile in the background none of the bystanders give the slightest reaction to anything going on around them. Remember, the battle is in Kaleb’s mind, and Pittman is trying to get the message across that when an anxiety disorder gets out of control, it can feel like the subconscious conflict is rolling right over what the individual knows to be true and correct. Kaleb knows that the guy on the subway is just talking and that it has nothing at all to do with him, but with the conflicting emotions boiling around in his head, it becomes harder to tell them apart. Eventually his frustration breaks loose like a bursting steam pipe.
I’m a fan of all things “left of center” (which is a phrase you’ve read here more than once if you’ve followed my reviews at all), which has nothing to do with my political affiliations or leanings. It’s a phrase that indicates a step outside of normal boundaries, tropes, or roles. “Off the beaten path” may be a more familiar phrase… which in and of itself might say something about me, that I even feel the need to use a lesser known saying to describe the obscure or unexplored. I’m also a fan of using an entertaining medium to portray a message, without that message becoming too heavy-handed. That balance is maintained beautifully in The War for Kaleb.
For anyone who’s experienced anxiety, anyone who’s known anyone who has, or for anyone who just might be a little interested in gaining a little firsthand insight about it, Jason Pittman has presented a very readable public service announcement for all to enjoy.
Knowing (and understanding) is half the battle.