Joe Sacco brings the Battle of Somme to illustrated life with exceptional, and heartbreaking, detail in The Great War, a 24-foot-long black-and-white drawing. He presents the intense illustration on heavyweight accordion-fold paper within a deluxe hardcover slipcase. Also included is a booklet essay about the battle by Adam Hochschild.
Sacco is an accomplished journalist and artist, and this work combines his skills into a captivating piece of art and history.
The accordion fold provides varied avenues to take in the drawing. Unfolding the entire package is impressive, while taking it in, one page at a time, uncovers how quick and barbaric the battle was. Sacco tells the story from the troop’s initial preparations on through the final aftermath. It’s a difficult ride, but a compelling one.
Well-researched, Hochschild’s essay adds welcome context to this specific battle. Sacco’s annotations also add extra detail—pointing out the characters, locations and equipment that inhabit the 24 feet. The annotations range from basic details (“Each soldier is carrying at least 60 pounds of equipment.”) to troubling truths (“The dead are thrown over the side of the trenches to be dealt with later.”).
War shapes history, and it inspires great art. Sacco and Hochschild have created a unique example of that. War history buffs will find an excellent addition to their studies with this package.