Goddamn This War! by Tardi and Jean-Pierre Verney – A review

Goddamn This War!
Tardi and Jean-Pierre Verney
Helge Dascher, trans
Fantagraphis Books, 2013

e4a0b604e5e23a2777988cfd2b4a1efcJust in time for the 100th anniversary of World War I is Goddamn This War! by Tardi with chronology by Jean-Pierre Verney (translated by Helge Dascher). The book is a brief history of World War I that eschews plot or characterization and instead dwells on the massive incompetence and horrid logic of the war, using mounting barbarities as an indictment of the war. The book seems as if it is narrated by a soldier and in a way it is: the voice of the nameless, a kind of chorus, recounting pointless act after another. Told in little short vignettes that relate everyday life of the war, Tardi shows the pointless of it all. From relating the death of a man while doing his business to showing the graphic moment results of a shell landing in a trench to showing a snow covered field with blood leaking through. No moment of the grotesque escapes his vituperation and sarcasm. If you’re squeamish this is not a book for you; however, there is more here than just war porn. Tardi is reasonably effective in showing the low points of the war (mostly that’s what they were). The basic chronology and graphic depiction of it will give anyone reading this an excellent insight into the war. He does narrate the major events, such as when Italy enters the war or the Battle of Verdun is taking place, what interests him, though, is not the movement of troops or the political implications, but how little it matters. In addition to Tardi’s narrative there is a fine chronology of the war written by Jean-Pierre Verney. Like Tardi’s work it show’s just how badly run the war was and how unprepared the French and British were. The chronology and Tardi’s work make this anything but a typical work of military history. It seems more like the work of the German anarchist Ernst Friedrich’s Krieg dem Kriege (War against War!), published in 1924 and filled with images what really happens in war, the maiming, deaths, etc. It is in this focus on what happened, what the aftermath was like for those with facial wounds, what little support the disabled were given, that his book takes on its real power: the reminder that war is more than just movement of little ticks on a map.

It Was the War of the Trenches by Jacques Tardi – A Review

It Was the War of the Trenches
Jacques Tardi
Fantagraphics Books

10pg excerpt from Fantagraphics.

Some books about war want to shock you, throw every image and arbitrary decision at you, and hope somehow that you’ll remember at least just a moment of savageness the next time you think war is interesting or good for something. The literature of World War I produced many books like that whose primary goal was to show the brutality and pointless of it all. From All Quiet on the Western Front’s body parts hanging in trees to A Farewell to Arm’s fatalism, the image of World War I was one of brutality repeated over and over again. During the war photos from the front were suppressed, and even now the images that are readily available from the war are relatively benign. But there have been exceptions over the years, such as 1924’s War Against War by Ernst Friedrich (a graphic excerpt) with its graphic images of death on the battlefield and the disfigured survivors. His book, though, was not a best seller and was eventually suppressed by the Nazis. It is hard to create lasting art with that goal in mind, which is not to say All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arm have other merits (I doubt Friedrich thought he was creating art, he had another goal), but so much detail, so much brutality, does not so much as overwhelm you, but inure you to what is coming. There is only so much you need before you get the point.

I mention all this because It Was the War of the Trenches is not for everyone, which is a shame in some ways, but also because in reading it I couldn’t decide if I was honoring the men, or going for a lark through the trenches. It’s not my war, and almost a 100 years latter why did an artist create a book that is surely in the War Against War mold. For It Was the War of the Trenches is a tough read occasionally: cartoon entrails can still seem disgusting. And the endless stories that end with the absurd death of the protagonist who never really seems that different from the last one and who you didn’t really get to know, leaves you with a sense of repetitive futility. I’ve read enough first hand accounts of World War I and II to know how it manifests itself. It is not a pleasant experience, and nor should it be, the anarchist Friedrich might say. However, he was a survivor of the war, Tardi only the grandson of one. It shouldn’t matter, but the book for all its good qualities, the research and the drawings, makes me wonder why, still this story? The story of a war this big should not be forgotten, or left solely to history books that are more about marching men than the quality of the ground after months of fighting, but the way Tardi approaches it the book feels desperate as if not enough people are listening to something that should have been told earlier.

Ultimately, It Was the War of the Trenches is what the title says. A book about the trenches of World War I, as illustrated by a cartoonist. I use cartoonist intentionally, and perhaps this is the strange feeling I get when reading the book, because at times the skulls and corpses that appear every few pages, seem straight out of the pages of late 50s EC comics and it is a little hard to take it seriously, which is a shame. That aside, if you need to be reminded of the futility of war, in general, and the specific futility of World War I, in particular, it is worth the read.