Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Review: the Great War

"Field Marshal Haig has formulated a brilliant new tactical plan to ensure final victory in the field."

"Ah. Would this brilliant plan involve us climbing out of our trenches and walking very slowly towards the enemy?"

"How could you possibly know that, Blackadder? It's classified information!"

-Blackadder Goes Forth

I didn't pay attention to the product description of the Great War: July 1, 1916 - the First Day of the Battle of the Somme by Joe Sacco. A new non-fiction book by Joe Sacco, you say? Bought. Had it arrived in my house just one day sooner, it would have been in time for Remembrance Day.

What is the actual product? Allow me to illustrate:

I joked online about my copy of Destroy!! being inadequate by comparison.

The Great War is a 24-foot long panorama of the Battle of Somme. Beginning from the left, you see images of cavalrymen, the beginnings of trenches, then the mines and shelling, the disastrous casualties, the hospitals and finally the graveyards. The panorama contains no text.

An accompanying booklet explains the genesis of the project and annotates the panorama. There's also a fantastic description of the Battle of Somme written by Adam Hochschild (author of King Leopold's Ghost).

Like a great museum diorama, it's amazing to see how Sacco is able to tell a story with the Great War sans text. Suppose you know nothing about the Battle of Somme and don't have access to the accompanying booklet - you can still see the story of the battle unfold across the panorama. It's a brilliant piece of art; not exactly a comic book or graphic novel, but a bloody brilliant idea, executed by an expert.

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