Monday, June 30, 2014

The Great War by Joe Sacco

July 1, 1916. Joe Sacco's The Great War is a wordless, accordion-folded panorama of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Imagine a Great War version of the Bayeux Tapestry.

A separate booklet, included in the box set, includes a brief essay on the war by Adam Hochschild, an author's note, and annotations to the artwork. Sacco writes:
I took this photo from the
library's mezzanine to get
the entire book spread out.
"Making this illustration wordless made it impossible to provide context or add explanations. I had no means of indicting the high command or lauding the sacrifice of the soldiers. It was a relief not to do these things. All I could do was show what happened between the general and the grave, and hope that even after a hundred years the bad taste has not been washed from our mouths."
The illustration is 24 feet long. It's meticulous and beautiful and heartbreaking. Every time I look through this work, I notice new tiny details. A passing soldier saying something to a couple standing in front of their village home. Food for the soldiers, being prepared and served in the field. A dog, barking at the influx of strangers. Someone peeing against a bombed-out building.
An entire page showing the accordion folds, plus detail (above).
There are long columns of men and endless tunnels full of soldiers, yet Sacco's fine detailing allows us to witness each person as an individual. Words cannot express the horrors of that terrible day.

Readalike graphic novels covering war from a soldier's viewpoint: Alan's War (Emmanuel Guibert); and Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (Shigeru Mizuki). Another haunting accordion-style book is Correspondences (Anne Michaels & Bernice Eisenstein).

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