Maximilian Uriarte is the renowned creator of the popular Terminal Lance comics and New York Times Best Seller The White Donkey. Uriarte's new graphic novel, Battle Born: Lapis Lazuli, lends a raw and compelling, modern voice to the combat veteran experience. But before he did all of that, he was a Marine.
Artistry and the Marine Corps aren't words that you typically see put in the same sentence, but Uriarte himself defies any Marine stereotype. "I've been an artist my whole life. I was always the kid in school drawing in the back," he said with a smile. "I joined the Marine Corps infantry to become a better artist. I viewed it as a soul enriching experience." He's well aware that most people don't use those words as a reason to join what is thought of as the toughest branch of service.
When Uriarte joined the Corps in 2006, he was adamant about becoming an infantryman – even though his high ASVAB scores allowed him to pick almost any MOS. But he shared that he wanted to do something that would shape him as a person, making him better. So, with his recruiter shaking his head in bafflement in the background, Uriarte signed on at 19 years old to become a 0351 Assaultman.
It was a decision that took his family by complete surprise, especially with the Iraq war in full swing. Raised in Oregon, Uriarte hadn't been around the military but always knew he wanted to do something to challenge himself -- something he was confident the Marine Corps would do. The year after he joined, Uriarte was deployed to the Al Zaidan region of Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines from 2007 to 2008.
Uriarte deployed to Iraq once again in 2009 and this time, had the chance to be a part of Combat Camera. It was here that he really started examining his experiences as a Marine and he began developing the now infamous Terminal Lance comic strip. He launched it in 2010, five months before his enlistment with the Corps was up.
"When I put it out [Terminal Lance] I really thought I was going to get into trouble," Uriarte said with a laugh. What sparked its creation was being surrounded by positive Marine stories, told in what he describes as an ever-present "oorah" tone. "To me, it seemed not authentic to the experience I had as a Marine Corps infantryman going to Iraq twice. Everyone hated being in Iraq, no one wanted to go there."
The Marines loved Terminal Lance. It wasn't long before it became a cultural phenomenon throughout the military as a whole and Uriarte became known as a hero among young Marines.
Uriarte shared that he had always wanted to do a web comic and the Marine Corps was definitely an interesting subject matter for him to dissect. "In a way, it was cathartic. The experience isn't something most humans go through. Doing it helped me move on in a healthy way," he said. While authoring the comic strip, he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a major in Animation through the California College of the Fine Arts.
In 2013, Uriarte self-published The White Donkey after a successful kickstarter, which raised $150,000 for the book. A few months after its release, it was so successful it was picked up by traditional publishing and went on to become a New York Times Best Seller. The gripping graphic novel pulls back the curtain to expose the raw cost of war, especially for Marines serving in combat.
Uriarte knew he wanted to keep going and this time, wanted to take his storytelling a bit further. It was his hope that he could create something focused on the importance of human connection. Through all of this, he created Battle Born.
"It's a story of a platoon of Marines going to Afghanistan, to fight the Taliban over the gemstone economy…. But it's really about Sergeant King and his emotional journey," Uriarte explained. He shared that he really wanted the character to reflect a modern day Conan The Barbarian, who he feels would definitely be a Marine.
"It's really a meditation on the history of Afghanistan in the shadow of western imperialism, colonialism and looking at the tragic history of Afghanistan," Uriarte said. "What does it mean to be civilized, is really the central theme of the book."
Uriarte's main passion is creating good stories that he himself wanted to see. He had never seen anything like Battle Born before – a Marine infantryman story that was very human grounded. "I truly believe that representation matters. It's a lens I don't think we've seen a war movie through before – the eyes of a black main character," he explained.
Hollywood agrees: The book is currently in film development to become a live action film.
The biggest piece of advice he hopes to impart on service members getting out of the military is to use their GI Bill and go to school when their enlistment is up. "Just go and figure yourself out. It is a very safe place to decompress," he explained. "The Marine Corps is very good at making Marines, but it's bad at unmaking them. It's a hard thing come back to the world and not be a Marine or in the military anymore."
The 2018 annual suicide report found that soldiers and Marines took their own lives at a significantly higher rate than the other branches.
Uriarte struggled himself when he got out, but he found that school and writing was therapeutic for him. "When you get out, the thing Marines struggle with the most is, 'Who am I?' We always say, 'Once a Marine always a Marine,' but I think that is unhealthy," he said. "People wonder why we have such high veteran suicides and it's because we turn them into something they aren't going to be for the rest of their lives."
When asked what he wants readers to take from his work, Uriarte was quick to answer. "These are really stories of human experiences; passion, love and loss. It's just showing that people are human and that Marines, especially, are human," he explained. Uriarte also feels that his latest full-color graphic novel will appeal not just to those who enjoy comics, but to a wide spectrum of readers through a beautiful visual journey.
Uriarte uniquely tackles the difficulty of being a Marine and serving in the military with raw honesty and creativity through all of his work. His newest book, Battle Born: Lapis Lazuli is a deeply compelling compilation of the human experiences that affect us all.
You can purchase Battle Born Lapis: Lazuli and his other work at your local Walmart, Target or online through Amazon by clicking here.