Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Faithful Hussar

Goddamn This War ! (Fantagraphics)
by Jacques Tardi, Jean-Pierre Vierney

* Goddamn This War ! tells the story of the First World War through short vignettes, more journal entries than narratives, of an enlisted french worker as he moves from front line to front line over the course of the war. There is no large narrative being told in Goddamn This War !, even the short stories that composed It Was A War Of The Trenches are left behind, there are no beginnings, middles, or ends for our narrator; no last minute heroics during the climax of a battle to save his best friend from certain doom with a tacked on voice over about how war ruins all. Hemingway's romanticism of war is dead, bashed by artillery into dust. The war simply begins and ends. The narrator survives, but like everyone involved on the front line he is left maimed in one way or another.

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.


* As the book goes on our narrator’s sense of detail diminishes. The first chapter, 1915, includes an elongated battle scene from his point of view, and is preceded by several pages of his company marching in parade like fashion through various French towns on their way to the front line. We are given details of the battle, including an interesting sequence depicting an ill fated cavalry charge which (as one would suspect) did not turn out very well in the face of modern artillery fire. This is our narrator's first battle and it is the only one which he gives such intimate detail. The first chapter is almost wholly consumed by these two actions, a march to war and the first military engagement. In contrast during the the final year, 1918, we are treated to a series of pages illustrating the death of nearly a dozen individuals. These deaths are told in a manner that makes them seem like more of an afterthought for the narrator than important moments in his life, each event receiving at most two panels and a few lines of narration documenting their lives and death, details in addition to these two are few and far between. It reads like a frightful recap, like a stand up realizing his ten minutes on stage are almost up and rushing to the punchline.

* 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.

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