THE GREAT WAR
Illustrated by Joe Sacco
Published by W.W. Norton
Reviewed by Marc Mason
Along with Paul Pope’s new effort, there is likely no more anticipated book to hit shelves this year than Joe Sacco’s THE GREAT WAR. Sacco, who has made his reputation as one of the true giants in the comics field with works like PALESTINE and SAFE AREA GORAZDE, is one of the most fearless and inventive people working today. He has never backed down from spending time in war zones, expressing unpopular opinions… his work is always a learning experience, as well as a visceral one.
Yet he has managed to top himself with THE GREAT WAR.
It isn’t that he’s made an all-time great graphic novel. Indeed, this isn’t a graphic novel. The cover describes it as “an illustrated panorama,” and that says it about as well as it can be said. This hardcover work opens up… and opens out… and out… and out. 24 feet out. THE GREAT WAR is one massive diorama depicting a singular day in World War I, July 1st 1916, which was the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Wordlessly, Sacco takes you from the day’s beginnings to the initiation of the conflict, through nighttime, to troop actions, to burying the first round of the dead.
This all occurs in astonishing, almost excruciating, detail.
Accompanying the diorama piece is a companion booklet that annotates moments seen in the art, adding facts and context to the piece that enhance understanding and deepen the work. The booklet also contains an essay from Sacco on the genesis of the project and an excerpted essay on July 1st, 1916 by writer Adan Hochschild. Both are informative pieces and enhance the reader’s understanding of the diorama itself.
I’ve spent a lot of time looking at THE GREAT WAR, and each time I do, something new catches my eye. It’s a different animal from what comics fans are used to seeing, a brave, inspired work from a talent who has now shown that he is completely unpredictable. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Also from W.W. Norton:
I described David Shrigley’s previous work as aggressive and angry, and those qualities come through clearly in his new book, HOW ARE YOU FEELING? A satirical take on self-help books and those who buy and believe in them, Shrigley uses his rough artistic style to create something that I would personally describe as an epic poem about mental illness and the inability to cope with modern living. Some of the material is inspired and enjoyable, but a lot of it is uncomfortable and you’d want to be selective about who you bought the book for. This is definitely a “your mileage may vary” kind of work; I get what he’s aiming for, but it isn’t for me.