Today, when we honor those who’ve served their country with dubious pre-Black Friday sales, Joe Sacco’s new book, “The Great War,” gives us some serious food for thought. Sacco, best known for hard-hitting nonfiction graphic novels such as “Palestine” and “War’s End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995–96,” has created something really special with “The Great War.” The selling point: it’s a book that folds out into a 24-foot-long panorama of World War I’s Battle of the Somme.
Even more impressive than the physical dimensions of the book is the approach the artist took to the project. Starting on the first page of that 24-foot panorama, we see the first day of the horrible battle play out from beginning to end – from troops arriving eager to do their part to others moving howitzers into place, right on through the troop advance and bloody chaos that puts them all through the Somme’s notorious “meat grinder.”
As Sacco told NPR,
“I did a very rough plan for it, so I knew, you know, I needed three pages to show the logistics, another three to show the troops marching up, four or five when they are in the trenches, etc. Just to give myself a sense of the rhythm before I began it.”
What makes the piece work is Sacco’s cartoony style, combined with his insistence on giving every single soldier a personality, be it with the blase expression of an officer looking out over a parade of fresh troops to other soldiers’ first hesitant steps out of their foxholes and onto the battlefield as all hell breaks loose. A beautifully realized, stunning reminder of what lies behind today’s closed post offices and Walmart circulars.