New Mercenary Fic Graphic Novel: Executive Outcomes, by Nick Bicanic and M. Zachary Sherman

Nathaniel F
by Nathaniel F

In the 1995-1996 Sierra Leone Civil War, South African mercenary company Executive Outcomes was tasked with reclaiming the valuable diamond mines for the country’s government, and crushing the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), who were rebelling with support from a similar group in neighboring Liberia. The company, now defunct, operated efficiently and quickly brought the RUF to their knees, resulting in the Abidjan Peace Accords in 1996.

Executive Outcomes, by Nick Bicanic and M. Zachary Sherman, is a graphic novel retelling the company’s experiences in the Sierra Leone Civil War, based on Bicanic’s highly rated documentary Shadow Company. Bicanic told TFB about the graphic novel:

It’s based on a true story about a group of 150 mercenaries that were hired to take back diamond mines in Sierra Leone but ended up preventing a genocide.

I wrote the story (based on my award winning documentary “Shadow Company” narrated by Gerard Butler) – and the book is being published by Hermes Press.

The events happened in the mid 1990s – however they still ring true today – because many of the men depicted in the book are active in the Global War on Terror today. For example a number of them fought against Boko Haram as recently as a few months ago.

Graphic novels are rapidly becoming one of the most popular kinds of media today. Fundamentally an expansion of comic books, graphic novels typically tell more serious, dramatic, or epic stories. As graphic printing has become cheaper and more widespread, so too have graphic novels.

TFB has received a copy of Executive Outcomes for review. We look forward to reviewing it for our readers.

Nathaniel F
Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. He can be reached via email at

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  • TJbrena TJbrena on Sep 13, 2015

    I always wondered how a PMC like Executive Outcomes got so much hardware, especially AFVs and helicopters. They're practically the template for the PMC as a private army in modern pop-culture, even if everybody points to what used to be Blackwater. And since for some reason PMCs are almost always bad guys or tools thereof in fiction as opposed to the recurring element of a heroic, ragtag group of mercenaries, it'll be a nice change of pace.

    With regards to tackling more serious subjects in comics, I'd like to see the same kind of movement with animation, to be honest. Most animation oriented towards more "mature" demographics is either comedy or a mix of comedy with another genre. There are more "kid-friendly" cartoons with a semi-serious vibe than adult ones, such as the DC Animated Universe, and later seasons of The Clone Wars. The two Dead Space animated movies were neat, but those were an exception to the rule of adult-oriented animation being primarily comedic.

    I'm pretty far from a weeaboo/Japanophile. I don't watch much anime, but the mix of lighthearted and more serious genres is something anime has over Western animation. I think of it as a cheaper - but not necessarily inferior - alternative to a more expensive and potentially SFX-saturated live-action show or movie with regular actors.

    It would be relatively niche as a medium, but I'd love to see - for example - a more serious counterpart to a cartoon like Archer (not that Archer isn't great, or The Americans, 24, and early Burn Notice don't exist) or an expansion of existing sci-fi universes like Alien(s), Firefly, Terminator, etc.

  • Nick Bicanic Nick Bicanic on Sep 14, 2015

    I wrote the story for this EO book - and I wrote and directed the documentary that led me to this.

    I'm in 2 minds about jumping in here. Because

    (a) I'm 2 days late so all the juicy stuff is already done
    (b) I'm gonna get equal parts reamed out and congratulated...


    that aside. Let's have at it.

    First of all thank you Nathaniel and TFB for agreeing to review the work. I am very proud of the end product (as I was of Shadow Company - the documentary I made about Private Military Companies).
    It's very important to me neither to glorify nor vilify individuals or professions in my work.

    That doesn't mean it can't be entertaining - for those of you who've seen Shadow Company - you'll know what I mean - for those who haven't....go buy it ; ) on

    But back to EO and the graphic novel.

    Let me deal with some of the more vitriolic stuff here.

    1. I think entertainment in media specifically is an extremely important tool for education. If you consume all your knowledge as dry prose the onus is on you to be motivated enough to seek to understand it further.
    Consider the difference between District 9 and Syriana.
    Syriana is about peak oil and its implications on geostability of countries - but it's so up its own ass about its self-importance that audiences walked away in droves.
    District 9 is about apartheid - yet it's dressed up a science fiction movie audiences can enjoy on multiple levels.

    I realise it might be a somewhat glib example - but I consider it important.

    That's why Shadow Company has lots of moments of levity - even though it deals with a serious subject of monopolies on the use of force, cost plus contracts etc etc.
    That's also why this EO story is a graphic novel.

    2. @sabertooth88:disqus - dude - you have a problem with "based on" - or the fact that graphic novels are a kid's medium?
    If you feel it's a kid's medium I'd like you point you to Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Fables or even Maus and Fax from Sarajevo.
    If you have a problem with "based on" I believe you are misguided in your trust of authors.

    Someone like Jeremy Scahill - who wrote the (unfortunately) best known book about Blackwater (NY times bestseller blah blah blah) didn't write "Based on a true story" on his work - yet it was dogmatic nonsense of the highest order.
    An attack of such vitriol on pretty much everything that uses a firearm in its line of work professionally - that you have to wonder whether he ever even spoke to anyone from Blackwater. (that's kind of an inside joke that I'll leave it to people to figure out)

    My point being - if the absence of "based on a true story" is meaningless in political discussion - since dogma sways narrative into spin so easily - then why would the presence of "based on a true story" bother you.

    If anything I consider it honest.

    The simple fact that I had to composite characters in the narrative and slightly compress timelines in order to fit 18 months of history across three continents into a 176 page visual story made it IMPERATIVE for me to say "BASED on a true story"

    This is not fantasyland knife-clenched-between-teeth armchair warrior paintball blackhawk 5.11 wearing check out how many picatinny rails my M4 has bullshit...

    Make no mistake. I was not there. I did not carry a rifle and wade through the dead bodies of children and butchered pregnant women while the international community shuffled its feet and talked about sanctions.

    At the time I was educating myself in the (allegedly) hallowed halls of Cambridge ;)

    I never pretended I was there and I never will.

    However I have spent significant amounts of time talking, eating, drinking and living with the men who were there and who made the decision to stay - even once the original contract was terminated.

    These counter insurgency conflicts were always messy - and continue to be so today...but I'm quite certain I've earned the respect of the men involved so as to be the bearer of their story - without any intentional spin or bias.

    Absolute spin or bias - as you quite rightly point out - is impossible to avoid.
    But this book is my best effort.

    If you don't like it - the fault is mine alone.

    However - have a look at the reviews on Amazon (they're just getting started) - and if you really think it's biased and soldier of fortune fantastic once you've read it. I'll personally refund your money.

    I'm entirely serious about that.

    Thanks guys. I look forward to the review - assuming Disqus continues to update me - I'm happy to continue the discussion.

    • See 4 previous
    • Sabertooth88 Sabertooth88 on Sep 15, 2015

      @Nick Bicanic I very much appreciate your chiming in on this, I only wish that the writer had made as eloquent of an argument for this as you had. Regardless, my objection to this was never, at any point, about the comic itself. Rather, my objection to it's inclusion on this site is/was that this is by no means about firearms. The way you describe it is suspenseful and moving, yet the core is nothing about firearms, it's an extended rescue mission staring mercenaries. I regret my crass usage of the word "crap" in my first post. Thank you for your perspective.