Monday 2 December 2013

The Great War by Joe Sacco

This post is a bit of a cheat. I haven't seen this book yet; I've only been told about it and read about it online. But it sounds so fascinating I wanted to mention it straightaway.

Someone said to me recently that they hoped I would be covering books written some time ago as well as books that are being published now, and that is certainly my intention - but it's hard to keep up! I just checked out a list from Publishers Weekly about children's war books coming out in 2013 and the list is enormous.

The Great War is a graphic novel (whether or not not you like that term) showing the first day of the battle of the Somme in fold out pages: "an epic 24ft portrayal of the events of 1 July 1916." It's one long drawing with no speech bubbles or words, taking us through the events of that first day.  

You can see some of the pictures here

Joe Sacco take 2: war pic 1
Most of the men sent to the Somme are New Army volunteers. 
At the height of every recruitment, 30,000 men enlisted each day
It's a stunning idea, described in this Guardian interview with Joe Sacco as "the Bayeux Tapestry as a silent movie". The descriptions in this interview of how he did it are fascinating (he broke the photocopier at London's Imperial War Museum by copying so many research photographs and images.)  

Joe Sacco is described as "a Maltese-American comic book artist and journalist" although in this interview he tells how he grew up in Australia, the impact that Anzac Day services had on him as a child and his childhood interest in World War One with its new technology. He also has some great stuff to say about the advantages of his style of illustration in telling stories - for example: "With the written word, you can describe the architecture, but you’re not going to keep mentioning it as a figure is walking down the street, you’re not going to keep mentioning what the background is. With comics you can do that."

And also this: "The other thing I think a comic does well is that it can take the reader into the past, very seamlessly. Because your drawing style is the same now as if you’re drawing something a hundred years ago, and so the reader has an easier transition, which can be difficult to do with a documentary film; sometimes documentary film relies on acting to bring the past to life, and that always seems strange — it rubs up against the nature of documentary film.

You can read another review from the Washington Post here. I'm really looking forward to seeing a copy of this book and I'll try and track down some of Joe Sacco's earlier work as well. 

Cartoonist Joe Sacco:
Joe Sacco (Credit: Don Usner)

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