The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme


From “the heir to R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman” (Economist) comes a monumental, wordless depiction of the most infamous day of World War I.
Launched on July 1, 1916, the Battle of the Somme has come to epitomize the madness of the First World War. Almost 20,000 British soldiers were killed and another 40,000 were wounded that first day, and there were more than one million casualties by the time the offensive halted. In The Great War, acclaimed cartoon journalist Joe Sacco ...

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From “the heir to R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman” (Economist) comes a monumental, wordless depiction of the most infamous day of World War I.
Launched on July 1, 1916, the Battle of the Somme has come to epitomize the madness of the First World War. Almost 20,000 British soldiers were killed and another 40,000 were wounded that first day, and there were more than one million casualties by the time the offensive halted. In The Great War, acclaimed cartoon journalist Joe Sacco depicts the events of that day in an extraordinary, 24-foot- long panorama: from General Douglas Haig and the massive artillery positions behind the trench lines to the legions of soldiers going “over the top” and getting cut down in no-man’s-land, to the tens of thousands of wounded soldiers retreating and the dead being buried en masse. Printed on fine accordion-fold paper and packaged in a deluxe slipcase with a 16-page booklet, The Great War is a landmark in Sacco’s illustrious career and allows us to see the War to End All Wars as we’ve never seen it before.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Jeff Shesol
In truth, it's not really a book at all, but a tableau in a slipcase, an extended illustration, 24 feet long when fully unfolded. In its visual vernacular, it owes less to Sacco's previous style…than to the accordion-pleated cityscapes of Matteo Pericoli and, even more, to the Bayeux Tapestry…Like that 1,000-year-old embroidery, this book is more than a bird's-eye view of a battlefield; it is also a narrative. As Sacco pans from left to right across a scarred and crowded landscape, he moves forward in time. If the war itself was intensely claustrophobic, waged mostly from the confines of a mud-filled ditch, Sacco's take is panoramic. One of the many remarkable things about this book is his ability to portray scale without allowing us to forget that these are human beings, after all; every figure, however small or distant, is carefully rendered—almost, perhaps, as a mark of respect…Sacco's illustration—exacting in every damning detail, magnificent in its tragic way—is both indictment and tribute…
Publishers Weekly
★ 09/30/2013
The Battle of the Somme in Northern France, pitching English and French troops against Germany, was the first great military push by the British of World War I—and the one most dearly paid for in blood, with casualties of over one million killed or wounded. Sacco, the Eisner Award–winning author of several graphic novels of modern-day reportage (Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt; Palestine), has created an impressive, large-format, 24-foot-long foldout panorama—a sharply-delineated, dynamic b&w illustration showing the full landscape and timeline of the battle’s first and deadliest day. In dizzying detail, he depicts the anticipation, progress, and horrors of the battle: guns being towed to the front, troops crammed so tightly into trenches that they had to sleep standing, bombardments trapping and mowing down British troops, and scores of wounded men waiting, without sufficient medical care, for their deaths. Sacco’s skill in revealing the fine particulars and extraordinary circumstances in realistic, unexaggerated drawn detail make this a fascinating, graphic view of war. This remarkable panorama is packaged in a hard slipcase, and an included booklet features an extensive essay by historian Adam Hochschild (King Leopold’s Ghost) and Sacco’s annotations on the panorama. (Nov.)
Rachel Cooke - Observer (UK)
“Awesome…His silence first mirrors and then amplifies our own horrified stupefaction—and his inky crosshatching speaks for itself, sorrow and rage in every dogged line.”
Stuart Hammond - Dazed & Confused
“Insanely beautiful. This is yet another total masterpiece from one of the most important comic artists of all time.”
Steve Rose - The Guardian
“The book depicts the first day of the battle of the Somme, as it's never been seen before…It's like a cross between Hergé and the Chapman brothers; the Bayeux Tapestry as a silent movie.”
Carl Wilkinson - Financial Times
“Stunning…An epic illustration.”
Caroline Sanderson - Independent on Sunday (UK)
“A mini-masterpiece.”
Kathryn Schulz - New York Magazine
“Deeply absorbing.”
Cory Doctorow - Boing Boing
“Gorgeous and haunting.”
John McMurtrie - San Francisco Chronicle
“Nothing quite compares to [The Great War]…Astounding.”
Chris Ware
“Joe Sacco is a genius. Easily one of the most important journalists, writers and cartoonists alive, every stroke of his assured and humblingly mature pen captures what the camera simply cannot. Through his reserved yet compassionate use of words and pictures, he allows us to occupy the horrifying inner and outer boundaries of human cruelty and desperation—yet all, I believe, with the aim of returning to what it means to be a civilized, sympathetic and possibly even forgiving soul.”
The Stranger
“You’ve never seen anything quite like this.”
The Guardian
“Spectacular…. Welcome to the trenches. This is going to be massive.”
Starred Review Booklist
“Epic [and] revelatory…. Unfurled, this condensed picture of the Western front is one of staggering grandeur and inescapable doom.”
Kenneth Baker - San Francisco Chronicle
“Sacco's account of the opening of one of modern warfare's bloodiest campaigns has no real parallel…. [It] insinuates an intimacy with calamity that words do not convey.”
Greg Cook
“Overwhelming and wondrous…dazzling.”
Christopher Lyon - Bookforum
“An eloquent, convincing, entirely wordless story.”
Tom Horgen - Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Sacco at his most bombastic and epic, as if his publisher had given him Steven Spielberg’s budget.”
Kirkus Reviews
An illumination of a crucial battle within "the war to end all wars" redefines the power and possibilities of graphic narratives. Sacco (Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, 2012, etc.) has long focused his artistry on conflict, but this is a radical formalistic departure. First, it is wordless--no dialogue, no narrative. Second, it is pageless--a 24-foot-long panorama, which opens like an accordion. Third, it is chronological, to be viewed (read?) from left to right, as the optimistic illusions of the British soldiers advancing on Germans turns into a tragic, bloody massacre. On this first day of the Battle of the Somme--July 1, 1916--almost half the 120,000 British troops who had somehow expected an easy victory were dead or wounded by nightfall. It was, writes historian Hochschild (To End All Wars, 2011) in the booklet that accompanies the art, "the day of greatest bloodshed in the history of their country's military, before or since." The booklet also includes an author's note, in which Sacco explains his decision to focus on this one day and the inspiration of both the accordion panorama and the medieval tapestry. He also writes of a challenge that ultimately adds to the richness of the art: "Making this illustration wordless made it impossible to provide context or add explanations. I had no means of indicting the high command or lauding the sacrifice of the soldiers. It was a relief not to do these things. All I could do was show what happened between the general and the grave, and hope that even after a hundred years the bad taste has not been washed from our mouths." The work comprises 24 plates, with three on each of the yard-long panels of the accordion foldout, as the faceless soldiers fall to their bloody, anonymous deaths. Unique, devastating, indelible.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393088809
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/4/2013
  • Pages: 54
  • Sales rank: 29,371
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 11.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Joe Sacco's acclaimed books include Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde, and Footnotes in Gaza, as well as a best-selling collaboration with Chris Hedges, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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