Friday, April 18, 2014

The Great War by Joe Sacco

World War I is a now a distant event in the American collective consciousness. Armistice Day has become Veteran’s Day, honoring all veterans rather than the end of The Great War which erupted in Europe one hundred years ago. All of its veterans are now deceased. We can only get our information from books and photographs. Graphic artist Joe Sacco has given us a detailed picture of what the war was like for 120,000 British soldiers who fought on one particular day in 1916.

July 1, 1916 was the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The Great War by Joe Sacco is a twenty-four foot accordion-page book illustrating that day. It begins peacefully with the British General Haig attending church, taking his usual walk and going for a ride on his horse. Meanwhile, guns and ammunition and troops are being moved into place for the battle. As the book unfolds, the battle begins. The artillery fires, the soldiers leave their trenches, advance and incur horrendous casualties. The battle rages on as the book opens up to a continuous twenty-four foot panorama of illustrations, showing the various aspects of the battle. An accompanying pamphlet annotates the major points of the drawing. An essay by Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars, explains the decisions that led to this disaster.  General Haig had prepared his troops for this battle as if it were to be fought in a previous century.  He underestimated the strength and resolve of the Germans and expected his infantry and cavalry to eventually fight the enemy in the open. But the Germans were not driven from their trenches and did not come into the open to engage the British troops as they advanced across no man’s land. Instead they picked off the advancing soldiers with machine gun fire. By the end of this first day of the Battle of the Somme, the British had suffered 57,000 casualties.

For history buffs, graphic art fans, fans of Downton Abbey and curious readers of all ages, The Great War illustrates a day in a battle in the first modern war. The black and white drawings are detailed but not graphic in their portrayal of the horror of war.

Check out The Great War by Joe Sacco @ the library!