Joe Sacco – The Great War – Book Review
This book is something of a departure for Joe Sacco, known for his graphic novels based on his time as a journalist in Palestine and Sarajevo. This book leaves his own life time and personal experience and focuses on a war a 100 years ago. This is an illustrated Panorama according to its front cover. It is a book that aims to depict the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the 1st of July, 1916. It is a day that has become synonymous with the futility of war but also for the massive sacrifice on the part of those involved.
The First Newfoundland Regiment were just one of those that were involved in the Battle of the Somme. On the first of July 1916, 752 men climbed out of the trenches and went over the top to face what they thought would be a heavily weakened enemy, and a quick advance against minor resistance. By the end of the day, 684 of the 752 would be dead, wounded or missing. The short ten page essay (by Adam Hochschild) and author’s note that accompanies this volume aims to bring home the massive death toll and sacrifice of the Battle of the Somme, but also how deeply flawed the military thinking behind the assault was.
The idea was to carry out a massive bombing campaign which would effectively destroy the resistance of the enemy and then to forge onwards taking massive gains on enemy lines. The plan for the first day of the campaign was 31 pages long and included the British names that the German trenches would be rechristened when they were taken. Of the 120,000 troops that went into battle, almost half of them were dead or wounded in the first day (57,000) or 2 casualties for every yard gained.
This book is an oddity and is closer to a picture book than a graphic novel. It is without any text, no words are put into the mouths of those in the battle. The book folds outwards, concertina style to show a long panoramic image of the battle, which moves from the lonely General standing miles off enemy lines to those on the front lines and then onto the medical staff dealing with casualties and eventually to the graves. The full length of the image is over 7 metres. It is a sort of modern day Bayeux tapestry, and depicts the events of the battle, and how those involved acted. The accompanying volume includes ‘The War Annotated’ which is a series of notes on what the artist is aiming to depict on each page. These notes show the level of research that was carried out prior to the drawings. The artist spent time in the Imperial War Museum in London and plundered the photo archive to find the type of images he aimed to depict. Coming to the end of the centenary of the start of the Great War, this aims to make the massive death toll more personal and human.