I’m not a fan of war. Plain and simple. But then, I very much doubt anyone really is. Sure, it’s both exciting and terrifying to watch on screen, but when we hear about that week’s fatalities on CNN or read about the father of two that lost his life in a bombing in the newspaper, a part of us wants to believe that it’s all as fictional as the war films we watch in the movie theatre. It’s an especially foreign and horrible topic if someone close to you, like a father or mother, son or daughter, or brother or sister, is out there with all of the others, fighting for our lives and liberty back home. I may not be a fan of war, but I can salute to any man or woman willing to sacrifice themselves to a necessary evil for the ones they love as well as for the thousands of complete strangers.
Jose L. Torres’s Tilt-Shift is “…a fact-based portrayal of a Special Operations deployment from the eyes of a young combat photographer.” Although fictionalized to protect the identities of those involved, Torres promises that Tilt-Shift is as close to the front lines as those of us sitting on our couches back home will get.
This is a very involved project and backers are given a multitude of rewards, depending on the amount pledged, including: original artwork, a head sketch or commissioned artwork by Joshua Hood, illustrator of Tilt-Shift, a shooter’s cap, and for budding photographers, you can even get the chance to show off your portfolio to a panel of military professionals.
Yenny Coll: Please tell us a little bit about your background as a comic book enthusiast. What are some of your favorite works and who are some of your influences?
JLT: Funny story. I walked into a recruiter’s office – at the time I had dreadlocks and looked like the tallest, clumsiest hippie of all time – so, I walked right up to him and asked for the closest job to Indiana Jones without being exclusively responsible for shooting anyone. Not that I wouldn’t, but I wasn’t ready to make it my first duty. They thought I was messing with them. It wasn’t until I aced the ASVAB that they realized that they might have some use for me.
YC: When you were deployed to Afghanistan, did you go expecting something different than what you actually experienced? Or is there really no way of predicting that?
JLT: Once I was in the Army, there was a metamorphosis from the goofy long-hair to the guy they sent out. If you take Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training seriously, they really do let you know, more-or-less, what you could be in for. Based on how well you listen and learn and how serious you are about your job, they’ll pull the curtain back more and more. I fell in love with the possibility of the mission I took part in while in AIT. I worked hard and earned the title of Distinguished Honor Graduate of my photo course. Heck, when I found out what unit I needed to be in to go on the mission, I wrote a letter to the First Sergeant at the time showing my credentials and pleading my case.
That being said, I was in no way ready for my first mission. It is something of a miracle I lived through it. We landed pretty much on top of the enemy and it was “kill” from the get-go. The mix of military training and movies gave me a kind of reference for the fast and explosive nature of war at the Special Operations level, but the icy palm of real danger at the base of your spine is something you can’t prepare for. It’s amazing what you see yourself do when called to task if there are real stakes.
YC: Would you go back and do it all over again?
JLT: Yes and no. Yes, because I loved my job and there’s nothing like knowing that, every day, you’re doing important work. Yes, because you get to work with the best guys in the world. Not just the best soldiers – although there’s that – but these are some of the best, most professional people you could ever hope to work with. It’s an environment where everyone gives their all and, in turn, they expect you to give everything you have. It inspires you to push yourself to new heights.
No, because I have a wife and infant son. I put them through it once and I can’t do it again. No, because I’m not actually very tough at all. I was attached to a team of REAL soldiers and I did everything in my power to support them. They watched my back and helped bring me to a level where I wasn’t a liability or an embarrassment. Still, I needed them way more than they needed me.
If I had to – I mean like the Army calls my magic red phone and says it has to be me or all is lost – I would. I haven’t lost my sense of duty and I’m not crazy or jaded from war or anything. I am proud of what I did and I’m glad I did it.
YC: This project is all about portraying the truth of war and what soliders actually experience as they put their lives at risk for their families back home. In your opinion, how much of a Hollywood war movie is fictionalized and how much of it is accurate?
JLT: From what I’ve seen, most modern war movies are more fabrication than truth. There are exceptions. Blackhawk Down captures the spirit of war and warriors very well. Series like Band of Brothers and The Pacific do an excellent job of telling those WWII stories.
For the most part, I feel modern Hollywood war movies are trying a little too hard to either compete with “big action” movies or tell a raspy voiced “war is hell” story without any real understanding of the topic. They tailor war to suit their purposes and, in that, lose the ring of truth.
YC: This is a really ambitious project. What do you hope readers will take from it, specifically?
JLT: I hope that our readers come to understand that Special Operations soldiers aren’t mythical beasts grown in laboratories. They’re that class clown jock who cracked jokes with you in homeroom or that quiet skater kid who shocked your gym teacher by running a five-minute mile. They’re normal people who, for better or worse, grew up in an America whose President told them that Americans were strong and that strong people flexed when challenged. They love that America and would die for it and for their fellow soldiers.I also want people to see that war isn’t just shooting and explosions. It’s a dance, a skill and an art. For many it’s more than a job, it’s a profession and they’re damn proud of it. It’s the ultimate contact sport and, for the gambling man, there are no higher stakes.I want people to look at the depictions of these young men and women and be grateful that someone has the nerve to do what they do because, in the end, they’re just people. They can and do die. There is no revamp or relaunch. Dead is dead out there. They know it and they still volunteer.
JLT: I feel, looking back at my older stuff, that I used to pander a lot. You could see me in every page looking back at you and hoping you liked my work, and me as an extension of that work. I really don’t care about that much anymore. I am doing something that I feel is important and if people can’t see that then maybe they don’t deserve the truth. I have the confidence that I can do anything else with my life and be successful. I’d love to write these books and share what I’ve seen with people, but it’ll have to be on my terms. Otherwise, I might as well have bought some war books, read a few reports and just made the whole thing up.
YC: What’s it been like working with Joshua Hood, who has illustrated for both Marvel and DC?
This very ambitious, very expensive project will need all the help in can get to become a reality. Please check out the Tilt-Shift Kickstarter page to pledge your support, and share the project to help spread the word.