Monday, June 21, 2010

Review: It Was the War of the Trenches

It Was the War of the Trenches, by Jacques Tardi, 2010, Fantagraphics, 120 pages, $24.99

This is a series of short stories about French soldiers during World War I.  It is the third book by French artist Jacques Tardi that Fantagraphics has translated and published in the U.S.  The first was West Coast Blues, a crime story about an everyman on the run from two hitmen that I quite liked.  The second was the surreal farce You Are There.  And due out in September is The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec: Pterror Over Paris / The Eiffel Tower Demon, released to coincide with the new Luc Besson-directed movie.  This one seems to be a very personal work, one that occupied a large chunk of Tardi's time (it was begun in 1982 and completed in 1993).

A quick and easy way to get a handle on the book can be found in the fact that the two blurbs on the back cover are from Art Spiegelman and Joe Sacco.  The book reminds me of Spiegelman's work because it draws from a similar well of aggressive unpleasantness: Spiegelman calls it a "devastating crater of a work . . . a kaleidoscope of war's dehumanizing brutality."  The book also is impeccably researched and puts the reader into the shoes of the soldiers in the war, not unlike how Sacco's non-fiction investigations unearth all of the buried details of his chosen topics: Sacco says that "it can be compared to the work of the artists who actually served in the trenches."

Everybody dies in this book.  It's sad, gory, brutal, depressing, visceral, and overwhelming.  It brings those poor soldiers back to life and, instead of celebrating any victories or glorifying any heroic acts, just shoots them in the gut all over again and leaves them to die in the mud and filth of no man's land.

It's an impressive work of art that floods the reader with a feeling of hopelessness.  How Tardi managed this feat without having participated in the first world war is really quite amazing.  It is worth reading.

READ MORE: Here is a ten-page excerpt, Tardi's foreword, and a video/slideshow preview.  Here is Tom Spurgeon's interview of publisher, editor, and translator Kim Thompson, and here is an Inkstuds podcast interview of Thompson.

BUY IT: From Fantagraphics here or from Amazon here: It Was the War of the Trenches

RELATED: My posts on other books published by Fantagraphics:
Disclaimer: Fantagraphics sent me a review copy of this book.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, Tardi has been obsessed/interested in World War I for a long time; echoes of it are in Adele Blanc-Sec as well and earlier works like La véritable histoire du soldat inconnu and Adieu Brindavoine/La fleur au fusil. France is of course much aware of WWI than America is, or even the UK, alive in the way WWII is elsewhere, especially when there were still quite a few veterans about back when Tardi first started drawing comics. Almost everybody would have a granddad or granduncle or more in their family who fought in the trenches and perhaps another granduncle no longer there because they died in the trenches...

    On a more political level WWI also fits in with the cynical, leftist view of the world that his generation of French cartoonists have: life's absurd and controlled by forces beyond your reach and then they make you fight in the trenches.