Marine Veteran and CCA Alumnus Maximilian Uriarte Draws From Experience for Comic Strip "Terminal Lance"

Uriarte sketching in Gharma, Iraq, in 2009View slideshow 

Maximilian Uriarte (Animation 2013) literally draws from experience to create the virally popular comic strip Terminal Lance. Started in late 2009 and based on Uriarte’s experiences as a Marine in Iraq, Terminal Lance is now published weekly in the Marine Corps Times newspaper and online.

In the Marines for “Art’s Sake”

There are many reasons men and women join the military, but Uriarte’s reasoning at age 19 was quite unique. “As an artist, I felt an intense need to experience the world in order to give a kind of legitimacy to my art. It might sound strange, but ultimately I joined for the sake of my art. I wanted to find the most difficult thing I could imagine.”

Uriarte joined in 2006, with the war in Iraq in full swing. With high scores on his ASVB entrance exam, Uriarte chose to go into the infantry. “My actual MOS ended up being 0351, Infantry Assaultman. I was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines in Hawaii, where I deployed to Iraq twice between 2007 and 2009.”

Art at War

During Uriarte’s second tour, his battalion commander saw his penchant for art and photography and offered him the opportunity to serve as combat artist and photographer. Through this, Uriarte was able to travel all over Iraq, taking photos and sketching the Marines’ daily lives.

“Most of the work I did was official, classified, documentary photojournalism. On a rare occasion, I would embed with a unit and effectively be allowed to capture anything I wanted, photographically or otherwise. This was the most fun, as I was given artistic freedom to sketch and take pictures of basically anything.

Part of my billet was also photographing for use our battalion “Cruise Book” (a yearbook for the deployment), which I designed cover to cover.

“This would ultimately prove to be an important step in my career, as it not only gave me experience I could draw from, but also laid the groundwork for Terminal Lance.”

From Iraq to San Francisco and CCA

After an honorable discharge from the Marines in 2010, Uriarte enrolled at CCA. “I initially entered as an Illustration major, but decided to switch to Animation when I realized I wanted to be more involved in filmmaking.”

“Being a combat veteran is a difficult thing. Coming to CCA was certainly outside my comfort zone at first. I think anyone who was in my classes can attest that I had my own growing pains with the process. Adjusting to civilian life is hard for every veteran, and I am no exception.

“Marines can be very crude creatures, and that’s not always appreciated among civilians. That said, I met a lot of great people who were very respectful of my experiences. I think a lot of veterans have a misconception about the Bay Area being hostile to the military, but I have yet to experience that.”

A Self-Taught Artist Learns Valuable Skills

Uriarte, born and raised in Oregon, considers himself a self-taught artist. He spent his childhood learning to draw by reading books by masters such as Andrew Loomis and Burne Hogarth. “When I was a teenager, a major inspiration for my artwork was Yoji Shinkawa, the character designer and art director for the acclaimed Metal Gear Solid series.

"This inspiration set me on a path to working quickly and gesturally, using ink. It adds a slight Japanese flavor to my work.”

But despite being a talented illustrator, Uriarte lacked the technical skill for a career in animation, and decided to come to CCA. "My animation courses taught me the technical skills I needed to create art beyond illustration: squash, stretch, arc, and so forth.

“Probably my favorite Animation course was Mark Andrews’s Visual Storytelling, a storyboarding course in which I learned how to pick apart a film, shot by shot, and maximize my storytelling ability with an economy of shots. I realized I had a passion for storyboarding.

"Now, all I want to do is work in the story department for film and TV.”

Putting Years of Experience to Work

Before Terminal Lance, the landscape for military (and particularly Marine Corps) comic strips was fairly barren,” says Uriarte. “I felt like there wasn’t anything accurately representing the Corps as I knew it. Marines were raunchy, angry, and often unhappy. This is what I wanted to capture and bring to the masses.

“In late 2009 I stayed up late and Googled my way through building a website. I made some comics and put them up. It started very slow. I remember printing out fliers and business cards and placing them around the base and barracks for Marines to pick up. I remember watching the website get 100 hits a day, then 1,000, then 10,000, and now 100,000.”

Terminal Lance: Not Always a Bad Thing

A “terminal lance” is technically a negative thing in the Marine Corps, Uriarte explains. It refers to a Marine who ends his career at the (low) rank of Lance Corporal.

“Because of the title, people were uneasy at first,” says Uriarte. “But once they saw that it was not only bringing to light some serious issues in the military, but also genuinely funny, they began to really love it -- among all ranks.

“I think what Marines appreciate about Terminal Lance is that is stays true to the Marine Corps experience. I do my best to remain unbiased and apolitical, which is important to avoid polarizing the audience.”

Kickstarting ‘The White Donkey’

The White Donkey is a graphic novel I’ve had in my head for a few years,” continues Uriarte. Based on the main characters of Terminal Lance, it’s “a story about a Marine, written and illustrated by a Marine.”

As its Kickstarter site explains, “The White Donkey explores the experience of being a Marine, as well as the challenges that veterans face upon their return home. Battling post-traumatic stress disorder and depression is a real story that many veterans deal with, but never really gets told.”

Uriarte struggled with his decision to fund the project via Kickstarter, but was encouraged by his CCA classmates. “I honestly believed it was a bad idea, but I ended up being proven immensely wrong, when, after asking for only $20,000, I ended up raising more than $160,000.”

A Full-Time Job

Following that wild success, Uriarte feels obligated to focus his full attention on his art. “It is a full-time job at this point, and I’m happy to be doing what I love. I have other projects kicking around in my head, too.

"My next goal, assuming The White Donkey is a success, is to start my own animation studio here in the Bay Area. I hope I’ll be busy from here on out!”

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