"I was the kid in school that was always good at drawing and the other kids would come to me if they wanted something drawn really well.”
By Andrew Cox
Max Uriarte was a U.S. Marine from 2006 to 2010. He was a 0351, Assultman and deployed to Iraq twice. He is the creator of the popular comic strip Terminal Lance, which humorously depicts life as a “Grunt Lance Corporal” in the Marine Corps. The name of the comic is a slang term for the difficulty of promoting to corporal within the infantry. Max is currently an Illustration and Animation major at the California College of the Arts in the Bay Area of San Francisco.
Why did you join the Marine Corps?
The war was going on and I felt like I wanted to get more out of my life. I would only recommend someone join the Marine Corps if they join the infantry—it is the only way to go.
When did you first deploy?
I deployed to Iraq the first time in 2007 in the Fallujah area with 3rd Battalion, 3Rd Marine Regiment. I was a turret gunner in Humvees when we first got there, then switched to MRAPs [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles] once we got them.
We did combat patrols. I was part of a personal security detail to the company commander. We spent our time driving all over our area of operations, all day everyday, whether that was taking the CO somewhere, going to the different COPs [combat outposts] the other platoons built, or checking on the Iraqi police or local sheiks.
I’ll never forget the first patrol we went on. We had to go investigate an IED that had gone off and when we got to the blast site, I remember looking down at this crater that was ten feet deep and fifteen feet across. Looking at that thing I felt like I had made the wrong decision joining the Corps [laughs].
We worked with the Iraqi police all the time, but that was before they even had uniforms and they were just a bunch of armed guys. We identified them by if they were wearing a glow-belt, which was funny to me.
Couldn’t anybody get a glow-belt?
Yeah, exactly [laughs].
How did that compare to your second tour?
We had a weird deployment cycle with our regiment. We were supposed to go to Afghanistan six months after we got back from Iraq, but we ended up going back to Iraq. Since the deployment was so uneventful, I was able to do the combat art and photography job.
Did you like that job?
Yeah. On my first deployment I was a turret gunner, I was just another grunt.
On my second tour, I had only two people in my chain of command under the battalion commander, so if I wanted to go somewhere, it wasn’t that hard.
I traveled all over Iraq on my second tour, which was a way different experience, because I was flying everywhere. I got to see the Syrian border, Camp Korean Village, and Baghdad.
How did you become a combat photographer and artist for your second deployment?
My company first sergeant found out I was an artist and I ended up doing some art for the company.
My battalion commander noticed and had me do some work for him. Right before our second deployment, he personally asked me if I would join the information operations team, which is typically responsible for creating flyers and propaganda to hand out to Iraqi civilians.
I agreed, but ended up not doing any of that stuff since our unit ended up doing convoy security and having little interaction with the Iraqi people. Because of that, I was tasked with photography and creating combat art.
Have your thoughts about the infantry changed having two combat tours completed?
I would never recommend anyone join the Marine Corps if they weren’t going to join the infantry because I think that is the real way to do it.
I joined because I wanted to go to Iraq and the Marine Corps Infantry seemed like the best way to do that. I don’t regret it at all, but I think a lot of stupid stuff happens in the infantry that doesn’t happen with the other jobs.
In the movies you see the guys all looking so badass and wearing all this special gear and you get all pumped up. But when you get out there, it’s different when you’re wearing 100 pounds of gear and its 130 degrees, you’re tired, haven’t slept in two days, haven’t eaten in twenty-four hours, someone is yelling at you for something that you may have not even done and you’re pissed off.
The reality is not nearly as appealing as what they show in the movies.
I was a turret gunner on a .50 caliber machine gun for my first tour. That might sound cool, but the reality is sitting and staring at a horizon for nine hours and you can’t move. If you’re going to pee, you use a bottle.
When did you start drawing?
My whole life. I was the kid in school that was always good at drawing and the other kids would come to me if they wanted something drawn really well. When I was about fifteen, I decided I wanted to do it as a career.
I kind of joined the Marine Corps to improve my art. I wanted to broaden my experiences in the world and I didn’t think I could draw anything without some type of life-changing experience.
Did you continue to draw while in the Marines before it became your job?
Yeah. In boot camp, each platoon has an artist recruit and as soon as my senior drill instructor found out I was an artist before I joined, I became that recruit.
Where did the idea for Terminal Lance come from?
After I got back from Iraq the first time, I really wanted to be a combat photographer, but I wasn’t allowed to leave my battalion.
Part of my idea for combat camera was to create a comic for a local paper. They ended up not taking it, so I went back to the drawing board and decided to publish it myself. This was in 2008, and I ended up putting it off since I went back to the infantry and we went back to Iraq.
When we came back, I started Terminal Lance, which was 2010.
I publish a new comic twice a week on my site and once a week in the Marine Corps Times newspaper, so I’m producing a lot of content.
Why did you leave the Marine Corps?
Like most grunts, I was counting the days until my contract ended. I never intended to reenlist. The day I went into the Marine Corps was the day I started counting the days until I got out. I think that is how a lot of guys in the infantry are because it’s really miserable.
The whole combat art role played a big part in the creation of Terminal Lance as well because doing that job made me observe people much more than most other people do. I pick apart a lot of what I saw and then make it something funny for the comic.
When I got back from my second deployment, I only had six months left on my contract so that also allowed me to focus on creating Terminal Lance because when your contract is almost up, you aren’t expected to do as much and you become known as the guy who is getting out soon.
Do you base Terminal Lance on real events and people from your experiences?
Yeah, that is the heart and soul of Terminal Lance, the observational humor based on real things that happened everyday. My perspective is limited to a lower ranking, Lance Corporal in the infantry so that is where I keep my focus.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little harder to think of ideas, now that I’m not in the Marine Corps anymore. The things that used to make me mad don’t anymore since I’m not dealing with them. So I can’t keep writing Terminal Lance forever, but my goal is to keep doing it until I can get a graphic novel out and once I do that, I’ll probably stop doing the regular strips.
Did you have any plans for when you got out of the Marines?
I think most Marines plan on going to school when they get out. The G.I. benefits are so good; there is no reason not to use them. I’m in animation school now and I’m continuing Terminal Lance for as long as I can and eventually I want to make animated movies.
I don’t have any interest in any live action stuff, but my dream would be to have my own animation studio and direct movies.
My immediate goal is to get the Terminal Lance graphic novel completed and maybe get that made into a movie.
Are the other students in art school surprised you were a Marine?
Yeah, it’s funny because most of the kids are eighteen. 9/11 was ten years ago, so most of my classmates were only eight years old when it happed and I don’t think they even care.
A lot of my buddies thought when I moved to the Bay Area I’d be torn apart by all these liberal hippies calling me a baby killer or something, but really I think these kids don’t even care because they aren’t old enough to care. When they were freshmen in high school, I was in Iraq.
My teachers have a lot of respect for what I’ve done and the art I’ve created because of my experiences.