Goddamn This War ! (Fantagraphics)
by Jacques Tardi, Jean-Pierre Vierney
If 'Goddamn This War!' could be said to have a narrative at all, it is the author's search for a reason for it all, the bloodshed and destruction, but by the books end all he seems to be able to come up with is nothing..
* I’m of two minds in regards to the title Goddamn This War!, the literal french translation of ‘Putain De Guerre!’ is ‘Fuck this War!’ and while that title (as Kim Thompson joked in a discussion on Tardi’s body of work) was likely to cause some problems at the distribution level, its name rings far truer to the intent of the work than the less crude Goddamn This War!. War is vulgar after all, and Tardi is well aware of this fact.
The inclusion of God in the title is interesting, it can either be read as an ironic appropriation of God, similar to the way the governments and militaries appropriated ‘God’ to lure the masses to their side during the war effort. Tardi does hint at this reading in the text by turning the Tommies (English) slogan of war “‘God and my lawful right’ against the Germans” in on itself, picking the slogan apart by questioning whose God is the true God if each nation prays to him, “another hypocrite with a finger in every pie” he emphatically states, eventually re-configuring the quote to fit his own view of events “Each for himself and God against all”. This leaves a sacrilegious bend to the title that, within the context of the work, puts to the forefront an important aspect of it.
The problem with the use of Goddamn though is that it elevates Tardi’s attack on institutional religion and its place in promoting the war, thrusting this singular aspect to the forefront of the readers mind. Tardi, throughout the work though is attacking the Military, Religion and the Government all at once, so by placing one explicitly in the title it seems to be taking away from the attack on each of the three and highlighting, to the detriment of the others, the attack on just one. Fuck though, fuck this and fuck that and fuck you you mother fucker, has a ring to it. It can be related to any and all of these institutions. It is universal in its vulgarity.
* Goddamn This War! is the first work of Tardi’s that I have seen in full color, or at least the first few pages of 'Goddamn This War!' are in full color. As the story progresses the color is sapped away, page by page, until it turns into an overwhelming grey-wash of bleakness as the murk and mud of death overwhelms the pages both visually and narratively.
It is not until the final year of the book, 1918, when victory (or whatever one wishes to call it) is achieved that color starts coming back to the narrative.
The color is not to be seen in the idyllic fields of France, where the first battles took place and Tardi’s lush colors made you think that they would be a wonderful place to have a picnic though. Nor does color return to the small towns that litter the French countryside, that Tardi so beautifully brought to life as the French army proudly marched through them on their way to the front line. It certainly does not come back to the faces of those who fought in the battles, even though the first time we saw them, in their brightly colored and ornate uniforms, they looked so full of life.
Death contaminated them all, their color is lost.
No the only objects that regain their colors are those which glorify the country and the war. The allied powers flags, which are waved in the streets of Paris when victory is declared, are given back all the vibrancy and luster that they had on the books first page. The medals of those who served, like the one pinned on a man slouched down on a street corner next to his crutches begging for money, are granted a new intensity that that man they are pinned to will never have again.
Since it was the country that won the war, it is the country who is given the promise of a future. A fresh coat of paint. Not those who had fought in the battles, they are always and forever to be tinged by the grey muck of what they saw and participated in.
* Fantagraphics used a different paper stock for this Tardi collection, it’s of a glossy ilk. I presume they changed the paper to make the colors (and lack of colors) pop, which it does, in a manner in which i am doubtful their default Tardi collection paper could achieve.
* In addition to the change in paper stock this is also the first Tardi collection with a substantial “extras” section, which seems to be a lengthy history of World War One with special attention paid to the events Tardi references. I also believe some of his reference photo’s may be included in this section, but I may be making that up.
As much as I enjoy the Tardi collections I always felt they lacked in this area, a nice series of introductions or a multi-part biography that spanned each collection would be something I would have really appreciated, especially since before the most recent issue of 'The Comics Journal' I have read very little about Tardi’s life and work.
*an altered version of this post originally appeared on The Chemical Box.