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Friday, November 21, 2014

Graphic Novel Versions of Wilfred Owen, Sigfried Sassoon and other World War I poets!

Duffy, Chris (ed.) (2014)  Above the Dreamless Dead:  World War 1 in Poetry and Comics. 

When I was in high school, I remember slogging through poetry units, wanting to like poetry, but wishing it was more exciting somehow.  And then I remember the day our teacher introduced us to Siegfried Sassoon and Wilford Owen.  I remember the power of Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est".  That scene of tired soldiers marching asleep, bootless, blind and deaf to the world, and then the shelling and gas and the "ecstasy of fumbling/ fitting the clumsy helmets/ just in time" and the guy who gets caught without his mask drowning in a green sea and how the point of the whole poem was that war wasn't glorious, but horrible (and that you had to understand the sarcasm of the last line to grasp it).  That was what made me think this poetry stuff might be worth a second look.
Chris Duffy has assembled a collection of amazing poets:  Owen, Sassoon, Brooke, Hardy, Sorely, Kipling, and Graves.  He has also pulled together some amazing graphic novel artists:  Kevin Huizenga, Peter Kuper, Garth Ennis, Anders Nilsen, and lots of good up and coming folks too.  And what you get when you combine these two lists are amazing poems given even more impact when combined with powerful images.  Simon Gane has a brilliant two page adaptation of Rupert Brooke's poem "Peace" which features a soldier either suiting up to either go to war or to leave the physical world.  Kevin Huizenga does a beautiful job turning Charles Surley's song "All the Hills and Vales Along" into a haunting and macabre reflection on death that reminds me of the gravedigger's scene in Hamlet. Peter Kuper's thick-lined illustrations bring Isaac Rosenberg's poem "The Immortals" to vivid life (and makes us wonder if the poet is speaking of killing lice, humans, or both. There are more than poems here too.  Eddie Campbell adapts the final chapter of Patrick MacGill's 1916 novel "The Great Push".  Hunt Emerson provides a one-page adaptation of a rather crude soldier's song (which includes words like arsehole, bollocks, and fornicate -- which might mean it is better to pick and choose poems from this collection rather than get a class set and have it challenged when a student brings it home and parents have a look).  Duffy has organized these works into thematic sections:  The Call to War, In the Trenches, and Aftermath.
It isn't a cheery, happy, friendly book.  But it is powerful, sobering, and very very good.

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