Sunday, December 22, 2013

WGTB Reviews Two Generals

I remember back in 2005 when I prepared a eulogy for my grandfather. I wanted to write something that was both short and enjoyable, yet grasped the gravitas of a long and distinguished aviation career that began as a fighter pilot in the early 1940s. Coming from small town Saskatchewan, Grandpa learned to fly in Canada before heading to Britain and eventually fighting over North Africa and Europe, ultimately surviving the war and returning to a career as a bush and corporate pilot. Being a humble man, Grandpa never bragged about his remarkable career but would occasionally sprinkle his conversations with fascinating stories about the various adventures he had during the war at Christmas and Easter dinners or at the mutual birthday parties we celebrated (I was born on his 57th birthday).  

Two Generals, Scott Chantler, McClelland & Stewart, 2010, pp. 145, C$ 27.99
I mention Grandpa because he came to mind as I read Two Generals, a graphic book by Canadian writer and artist Scott Chantler. In Two Generals Chantler tells the story of his own grandfather, Law Chantler and Law's best friend Jack Chrysler who both fought in the same war my grandfather did. Grandpa is also the reason that, while I don't normally review books almost four years old, I had to write this piece to tell my readers how much I enjoyed it.

Two Generals is a story about two friends serving in the Second World War. The book was written and drawn by one of these men's grandsons. All images from Two Generals.
As mentioned, Two Generals tells the story of two good friends. Not generals, but commissioned officers from Canada during the Second World War. From their origins in small Ontario towns, the two friends head off -- one married and the other a charming bachelor -- to do their part to end Hitler’s tyranny and win the war for King and country. Throughout the story we follow the lads and their experiences as they join the army, head to England, drink and enjoy themselves in London, train for battle and then, after waiting and waiting, finally launch towards France. As members of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, the men arrive during “Operation Overlord” (better known as the D-Day invasion) and after helping secure Juno Beach, head into occupied France where they experience the same highs, lows and horrors that so many of their friends and colleagues did during that hellish time.

The book is mostly grey, olive green and white, with red used to illustrate danger-focused points.
The story is both a tribute to the two soldiers and educational experience about the horrors and frustrations of war. The art, while not especially complex has a delightful story-telling quality and matches the flow of the dialogue and overall narrative seamlessly. It also selectively uses the colour red to mark points of hazard, which is very effective and gives the reader a sense of foreboding and danger as it happens. All of this makes it a very accessible book for a non-comic book reader and my father for example, not having read a comic book since the 1960s, was able to pick up Two Generals and get into the story immediately. And of course part of this book's charm is that it's a great story. We often hear about the bonds people forge during the toils of war – this is something I knew about my Grandpa – he loved his squadron buddies as much as anyone in his family. How these types of friendship are formed in very clear from this story and when the author describes how Law and Jack's friendship came to an abrupt end towards the end, it literally brought a tear to my eye. It was that sad. 

While focusing on the army, Two Generals doesn't ignore the overall horror that all those fighting faced.
Simply put, this book is a credit to the comic book medium and a great way to introduce any reader to both comics and the history of the Second World War. It doesn't glorify wars, rather explains what happens to many of the people who go off to fight in them. My only problem with the book is that it seems to have a slightly higher price-point than needed, and this might dissuade buyers. This issue won't really be a problem for teachers and libraries, and is probably mitigated by the fact that it's available in softcover now, but if you're looking to spend a little more than you might normally for a trade paperback, then I highly recommend Two Generals. I guarantee you'll read it again and might even share it with someone who's interested in WWII. 4.5/5 STARS

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