Review by Ian Keogh
A very clever scene occurs near the start of Tamba, Child Soldier. We know the subject concerns African children abducted from villages from which armed rebels have slaughtered all adults, and indoctrinated to kill in the cause of others. It’s already an inhumane and terrifying subject, so we’re prepared for horror, yet on the fifth page, supplied as the sample art, Marion Achard manages to deliver an extra punch to the gut.
Tamba Cisso is eight when abducted, but we first see him at sixteen, facing the Truth and Reconciliation Committee to provide an account of his time with the rebels. It’s a researched aggregation distilling what’s happened to so many brutalised children globally, set in Africa, but without naming a specific state. Achard’s version of his testimony shocks as intended, as Tamba runs through his past few years, events you wouldn’t want a child to know about, much less experience.
It’s just as well these are given some distance by Yann Dégruel’s art, but that’s a by-product of it not being as immersive as it might be. People are sunk deep into vividly coloured panels, frequently individual illustrations rather than panel by panel storytelling, and with a simplicity lacking atmosphere.
Tragically, there is no shortage of appalling events for Tamba to remember, and while noting them generates outrage, it’s accompanied by a constant inner voice pointing out how unconvincing Tamba is. It’s because Archard provides Tamba with writer’s dialogue, not the genuine voice of an uneducated sixteen year old. The lack of authenticity is a constant companion, even allowing for some dramatic licence, as beyond the dialogue being unconvincingly erudite, Tamba is supplied with an emotional intelligence likely to be beyond him also. That’s most apparent during a sequence where Tamba challenges the Committee about responsibility, pointing out that he’s also a victim.
Everything about Tamba, A Child Soldier is worthy in supplying a form of truth that should be widely known, and a scene near the end when Tamba meets a fellow abductee who’s taken a different path is both poignant and further horror. However, while shocking it could have been so much more effective.