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The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme Hardcover – November 4, 2013
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*Starred Review* What photos exist of WWI tend to be claustrophobic and grainy, which makes Sacco’s epic panorama feel all the more revelatory. Illustrated across a single, wordless 24-foot-long accordion-fold page, Sacco details—and detail is the right word—the situation on July 1, 1916, as British troops meet the Germans at the Battle of the Somme in France. Paged through like a book, it breaks into 12 double-page spreads of astonishingly deep focus, as we follow, from a three-quarter overhead angle, the progression of British forces rightward (that is, eastward), from horseback generals and their comfortable châteaus to chow lines bothered by just a hint of distant frontline smoke; from the labyrinth of trenches to the vortex of shell explosions and the resultant gore; and, at last, from the medic station, featuring new trenches—graves—to the ominous sight of incoming reinforcements. Unfurled, this condensed picture of the western front is one of staggering grandeur and inescapable doom: those lean-faced soldiers at the far left have no idea of the meat grinder that awaits. A separate 16-page booklet provides invaluable annotations as well as Hochschild’s fine essay on this disastrous day of battle. Though the format is a bit treacherous for library collections, this is on par with Jacques Tardi’s unforgettable graphic works It Was the War of the Trenches (2010) and Goddamn This War! (2013). --Daniel Kraus
A single continuous panorama, eight inches tall and twenty-four feet long, Joe Sacco's The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme illustrates, in minutely detailed black-and-white drawings, events just before and during a summer day when the British army suffered more than fifty-seven thousand dead and wounded, its greatest single-day loss. A journalist known for comic books on contemporary conflict, such as Safe Area Goražde, about the 1990s Bosnian war, Sacco conveys an eloquent, convincing, entirely wordless story. —Christopher Lyon
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The format is unique. The art is stunning. The scope is amazing. And the lesson is timeless. Combined with Adam Hochschild's essay on the significance of the Battle of the Somme (which was adapted from his incredible book, To End All Wars), Sacco's vision can be studied for hours.
One of the most impressive works of history I have ever had the honor to experience.
It includes a printed history and a key to understanding the panorama. The whole thing is presented in a hard slipcase and is gift quality.
I am most impressed with the technical ability that keeps the day flowing across the panels, with troops marching up or heading out, explosions, air surveillance, certain buildings, trenches, no man's land, and barbed wire. This seems like it would be impossible to achieve, but I'm holding it here.
Buy this one. It's a keeper.
I wonder what the artist would think if he was asked to "colourise" the scenes he depicts during the Battle of the Somme. Maybe he has already been asked.
The World War 1 museum in Kansas City procured what once was a football length "cyclorama" with 5000 full sized paintings of the well-known and perhaps not so well-known figures of the "war to end all wars" called The Pantheon de la Guerre. Even though pieces of it have disappeared over the years since the end of that it is still too large to display in its entirety I presume.
Joe Sacco's The Great War is fascinating and I was compelled to take out my magnifying glasses to get a closer look. It was well worth the effort.
There are no words. The entire book is black and white line drawing. The only identifiable individual is Field Marshal Haig. It seems almost facetious to say that the book must be examined like a Where's Waldo book to find all of the details that the author has included. The book consists of a continuous accordion fold sheet that carries the battle through the first day. Each page is packed with the small events of war that were occurring at that day in the battle.
His research of the subject was extensive. Having spent fifteen years in Australia before he moved to the States in 1978, he became fascinated by the Great War, especially of Gallipoli and the Dardanelles and it apparently never left him. He has amassed a large library on the war and he states in the forward that his inspiration for the work was influenced by the authors Martin Middlebrook and Lynn MacDonald among others.
This is a fascinating work. Its approach is probably unlike anything we have seen in this field. Despite this, it must be taken for what it is. Without a proper understanding of the battle, the book can do little to inform one of the chaos and horror of that day. The depiction of the dead and dying soldiers cannot by definition be close to reality. One unfortunate note (for me) is that Sacco chose to include an extract from Adam Hochschild’s book "To End All Wars", which is a history of the pacifist/socialist movements during the First World War. Although he doesn’t distort the history, Hochschild trashes most of the British military hierarchy including, of course, Earl Haig. He dismisses the more recent reassessments of the Field Marshall and falls back on the old ‘butcher’ treatment. I would have thought an extract from Martin Middlebrook’s "First Day of the Somme" would have been more appropriate.
Having said that, there is no doubt that The Great War by Joe Sacco will become an important and unique addition to the literature and iconography of this terrible war with which we will undoubtedly be bombarded in the coming five years.
*...except for much appreciated footnotes.
**...just a single loooooong folded page!