Reflecting on Creative Comics
During my first tour overseas I met a Kurdish man, an ex-peshmerga soldier. He was in his old age now, after untold battles against Saddam Hussein and other forces determined to extinguish his people. I was stationed at the U.S. Forward Operating Base in Kirkuk, Iraqi at the time. He had us call him Grandpa, for the life of me, I can’t recall his real name.
Over the course of a few months, we got to know each as well as one can when language is a barrier.
We were working on a project - I might note here, I was an U.S. Army Engineer - and Grandpa began digging a small hole or pit in the dirt as he called me over. My experience communicating with gestures and broken english suggested he wanted to explain something to me.
“Brother,” Grandpa said, patting my shoulder. “You are my American Brother.”
He squatted and invited me to do the same. With his hand he gestured to the pit he had dug.
“See. Saddam,” he continued, patting his chest as he explained, “put us in a pit. Far down.”
He looked at me, his eyes wore the battle weariness you can only see in those who have fought their entire lives for the right to survive - something all too many of us take for granted.
Grandpa imitated pulling up on a rope as if pulling those in the pit out.
“You. My American Brother. You pull us out. Kurdish people no longer in pit. Saddam no longer put us in pit.”
This is a moment in my life I will never forget. At times I look back in pride. Other times, I look back in sorrow. A conversation of broken english and gestures I am, many years later, still attempting to fully comprehend. This I know, that moment resonates even now. Not to compare my personal pit to that of the story above, but yes I would fall into a pit and have to find a way to climb out...
It’s been eight years since I was a broken man, relying on the kindness of friends. Sleeping on a couch in my buddies living room gave me time to heal my mind and recover from loss. However, my friend did me one other solid, he (strongly) encouraged me to create. He showed me the ropes and pushed me, as I sometimes need, to create a comic imprint for the stories I had been writing the past couple years. I didn’t know it then how important that moment would be, not only to my health, but to my life.
September 26th, 2009, I created an email account, a MySpace account, and a Facebook account, (Twitter would soon follow) all named for this new venture of mine, Warrior Innkeeper Comics.
They say you should never name your company after yourself, and there are a good many reasons for that I won’t go into. So rather than Kreger Comics I used the meaning of my name, that is, the multiple meanings of my name. There are three versions of my family surname I’m aware of: Krieger, Krueger, & Kreger. To my knowledge Kreger is the americanized version of the german name. If you’re into american football at all, or a history buff, then you’ll be familiar with the term, “blitzkrieg” and you’ll likely understand it means swift attack - krieg meaning war. Krieger meaing, warrior. Krueger on the other hand is more peaceful, meaning innkeeper. When two brothers from germany came over the Atlantic to start a new life in the late 19th Century, shortly after the U.S. Civil War, they simplified their surname to Kreger (pronounced Kree-gur). My ancestors are a mix of occupations with farming and service in the military being among the most common. I am not an exception, having both worked on dairy farms with my father, and then like my great uncle, and a couple grandfathers, have served in the U.S. Army.
I’ve also been a caretaker of sorts. While I’ve never been an innkeeper per say, as a young adult, my roommates and I did host a few at risk youths, and for a long time I had an open door policy to any who needed shelter. That’s not a pat on my own back, and not as magnanimous as it sounds. Those who stayed with us, were friends and… we had our limits. That’s close enough to innkeeping, isn’t it?
Thus, Warrior Innkeeper Comics was born.
The following months were a scraping of money together, hiring an artist to create a company logo, finding artist to work on the comics I was writing, and… getting called out of Inactive Status for one more tour in the Middle East.
Valentine's Day, 2010 I flew to Fort Benning, Georgia to train for deployment to Afghanistan. I was there with a group of other soldiers who had gone inactive but still under contract. The IRR or Individual Ready Reserve - as paraphrased from google; a component of the U.S. Army comprised of former active duty or reserve military personnel. Besides feeling an obligation or duty to soldier on, though I was still beaten down by depression and PTSD from my first tour, oh, and becoming technically homeless, I took it as an opportunity to turn my life around. I’d heard nothing good from battle buddies who’d already been to Afghanistan. Sure, I was worried about getting shot or blown up, but I was made more anxious from the stories of having to poop in bags and carry it with you while on mission.
Our commercial flight from the east coast to the middle east was a mix of complete boredom and anxiety. I was going to war. Our mission in Kirkuk was to rebuild. There were mortars, IED’s, and bullets… but my experience with IED’s was nil and the others… for the most part I dodged, so to speak. This go-around, I was really going to war. Can you even be prepared for such a thing?
We landed in Kuwait and where they split up into groups. The final length of the journey would be flown in military planes. My name, along with about twenty others, as I recall, was called. We were pulled aside and handed new orders. We were staying there, in Kuwait. A bus took us to Arifjan and spent the better part of a year there. It was boring.
However, we were granted a regular eight-hour-day work schedule. This allowed two things to happen. The most important of course was getting proper treatment for my mental health, and the most relevant to my company, time and money to work on comic books.
Internet access on base was surprisingly great! During my down time I was able to communicate regularly with people back home, and with my artists in Italy and the U.K. I enjoyed the work and it helped me focus on positive things, rather than those demons trying to convince me suicide was the only way out of the pit, which the frustration of being a soldier on a base where literally nothing of note happens opens doors for depression to take hold.
By the time I returned back home to Oregon, I had a few bucks in my pocket, our first two comics nearly ready for print, a girlfriend I met while on Leave, and was ready to take my life back.
I’ve glossed over things to tell this episode in my life quickly but I’d like to note, I wouldn’t have gotten where I am today, if it weren’t for the friendship of good people, specifically; Ty Wakefield, Adam Watson, Ed Ellsworth, Paul Johnson, and my beautiful amazing wife, Emma Kreger.
Emerald City Comic Con 2011, I used what was left of my army money to purchase an exhibiting booth at ECCC, fly my friend and artist on The Less Than Historical Adventures of Li’l Lincoln over to the states for the con, and print up our first two books, Li’l Lincoln #1, and The Black Suit of Death: Ides of March, plus a few art prints. I shared the booth with a two other creators as well, in thanks for their help in developing Warrior Innkeeper. Adam Watson of Darkslinger Comics (the aforementioned friend who had taken me in), and Tony Morgan of Gunbaby Graphics who designed our first company logo. It was a blast. We had a great time, we met Brent Spiner and unbeknownst to us at the time, created a few fans who continue to this day to follow our exploits! (If you’re one of them and reading this, THANK YOU!).
Since, we’ve experimented with a lot of different ways to keep the company going. The money I’d saved while on tour in the middle east only went so far. Somehow I’ve managed to find enough to create and publish and work on over 20 comic books - the money to do so mostly coming out of my own pocket and at some sacrifice. Thankfully we finally learned to tame that beast, Kickstarter and have been able to raise funds through crowdfunding for our latest books. I can not express well enough how grateful I and our team is for those generous Backers which have come to aid our venture!
Eight years have come and gone. Warrior Innkeeper Comics is now Warrior Innkeeper Creative. Much has changed, much has yet to come to fruition. The coming years show promise. Goals for Year Ten have been set, and they are as lofty as ever! I feel confident because I know three things to be true:
We, all of us are warriors working the flesh of our fingers to the bone in the name of creativity.
We, all of us are the innkeepers watching over our craft and keeping the spirit of independent invention alive with word and line.
We, all of us are creatives communicating through the infinite medium of the comic book.
Thank you all for joining us in this journey. We look forward to providing you with great art and entertainment for years to come.