Monday, January 24, 2011

The Two Generals

The Two Generals by Scott Chantler

It’s a dangerous proposition to write your thoughts on a book without having it opened beside your keyboard (or fresh in your memory, for that matter). But, that’s exactly what I’m going to do here since I find it hard enough to post on anything of a regular basis. I first came across mention of this book on Chantler’s blog and since then it’s been appearing everywhere. It was a pick on the iFanboy podcast as a gift suggestion, it was reported on by various CBC news outlets and was a focus on the CBC website during Remembrance Day. Finding comics mentioned outside of the comics media is sort of like when someone mentions Canada on an American sitcom - you feel a bit of pride when they get it right but still tell everyone about it whether or not it was useful.

This is a gorgeous book. If every trade paper back or collection of comics came packaged like this I would be a happy, happy man. The format, in that the book appears as a large moleskin notebook relates directly to the content that was developed from the journal of the creator’s grandfather. This is one case where you can actually judge the book by its cover. It pulls you in visually because it feels outside of the realm of what comics traditionally are. This package appears personal and like you are taking a glimpse into the private lives of those involved.

I’ve been a fan of Chantler’s art since I picked up Northwest Passage and I’m an even bigger fan here. I find that comics are strongest when they are stylized rather than trying to limit themselves to duplicating reality. And here, that’s how the characters are presented. They’re simple designs that allow the characters to act and emote but mixed into larger scenes that are drafted impeccably. It fits into the HergĂ© school of cartooning - well crafted, clean lined characters in a much more detailed world. The cartoonist can then exaggerate for effect but can keep the characters grounded by reality.

The limited colour palette reinforces the nature of the content as well. The whole book is rendered in a sepia toned green and a somewhat muted red. It feels like you are experiencing something from the past while the red highlights the horrific realities these men faced. These are excellent examples of showing how history is as coloured by how it is presented as much as by the available facts, which is, I believe the premise of E.H. Carr’s “What is History?” Although, I could be mis-remembering, since I read that a long while ago.

And that brings us to the narrative. This is an engrossing read and glimpse into the lives of two Canadian guys experiences during WWII. It’s not a thrilling war movie but it does present the brutal realities and absurd decisions these men were faced with. It’s a great book for anyone interested in “true stories” or non-fiction tellings of these events. This would be an amazing work for every classroom across Canada - it’s accessible, a quick read, and just chock full of information. And, I feel bad for saying this, but that’s sort of what it felt like at times to me. Just a relating of facts mixed in with a great real-life story. It doesn’t suffer too much for it though and that’s meant to be the most minor of criticisms because it’s a book I truly love.

The pacing does slow a bit because of this, and I think it’s just my reading of it rather than something being poorly crafted. Chantler is intentionally letting his moments breathe and linger rather than move on to the next plot point - I’m just too haggered with exhaustion of having a small child to enjoy the peace and reflection of the moment.

I hope this book finds the audience it can and should. This is a great cross-over book for anyone interested in the history and experience of WWII. It should be an eye opener for an American reader to see these familiar events from a different perspective and it should be considered by any Canadian interested in reading more or researching D-Day.