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4.8 out of 5 stars37
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 30 August 2014
The reportage of Joe Sacco has had quite an impact on me; it's down-to-earth and presented in a very interesting way to digest. I know there are people out there who scoff at "comics" but they really haven't acquired the skill to read them like a storyboard, they haven't read stuff like Sacco. So it was with great interest that I got hold of "The Great War; July 1, 1916 The First Day of the Battle of the Somme".
I was actually slightly surprised that it really IS a panorama - how unusual and yet how obvious! There is a long tradition of warfare being depicted through panorama; Kossak and Styka's "Raclawice Panorama", Roubaud's "Borodino" or Grekov's "Stalingrad". It is so natural to scroll the scene and watch the events unfold.
And so it is with Sacco; we watch Haig strolling through his peaceful garden outside his chateau and then the build-up of the troops, the marching into the trenches, shelling, the walk to death... explosions throw bodies into the air or tear them apart, the wounded are carried back to the field hospitals and the dead are buried as more soldiers march to the front.
It is so well done in simple black and white (no colour). There are no real dramatics... it just unfolds, almost pleasantly, unfeelingly, with the coldness of nature and history.
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on 4 January 2014
A beautiful panoramic book that is sobering in its depiction of and notes on the Somme. It is an adult book but the black and white picture has lots of details for children to look at and find and it is not too gory, so would be suitable for schoolchildren doing WW1 at school- but as you unfold the picture and read the accompanying notes the sadness and terrible toll become clear. To me the portrayal of the battle in drawings and simple notes seemed more effective than any number of documentaries with voice overs.

It is also beautifully presented and packaged so will be one of those special family books to look at together and treasure.
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Joe Sacco’s The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme isn’t a comic per se - it’s a staggering 24 foot long wordless panorama depicting the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Folded numerous times to fit into book format, it can be “read” like a book and looks a bit like an accordion in profile. It shows in jaw-dropping detail countless soldiers from the first page of a troubled General Douglas Haig well behind the lines to the gravediggers and dead bodies on the last.

The Battle of the Somme remains one of the worst battles in human history with over a million dead between July and November 1916. Sacco shows the first day from the Allied perspective which saw a staggering total of 57,000 British soldiers dead or wounded by day’s end, making it the worst loss in British military history. In comparison, the Germans lost an estimated 8,000.

How could such a catastrophe occur? Ineffective bombing. After a week of Allied bombing, the British expected to go in with their 120,000 troops and storm through the lines but, as soon as they entered no man’s land, they realised how much the bombs had missed the Germans’ lines when they saw line after line of barbed wire and machine gun nests intact.

In the style of the Bayeux tapestry 1000 years ago which depicted the Battle of Hastings, Sacco’s panoramic view of the battle takes in everything from the soldiers on their way to the front, arriving and eating breakfast, getting prepared and heading into the trenches, to the distant bombings getting closer, to the trenches themselves, and the beginnings of the attack which sees explosions and bullets tearing apart soldiers in the most horrific ways. It builds in pitch, starting slowly to becoming more and more frenzied until the final cold silence.

It’s such an impressive accomplishment by Sacco, especially when you look closely and see how he’s drawn every single soldier on the page - their faces, their correct uniforms and weapons - and amidst the grandiose scenes of bloodshed, moments captured: the sobbing expressions of stretcher bearers carrying dying soldiers, men cowering behind trenches, the lone survivor in no man’s land frozen in place as he looks around him to where his comrades were. There are so many in the panorama that you find yourself studying every inch of the page as you go. It’s simply a visually breathtaking, stunning and deeply moving work - a career highlight for sure by this incredible cartoonist.

Accompanying the panorama is a short introduction by Sacco (which leaves out how long it took him to create, a detail I would’ve liked to have known) and an illuminating essay by historian Adam Hochschild for context and perspective. There’s also a breakdown of the 24 plates, pointing out and explaining specific scenes.

Though Sacco is best known for his superb comics journalism like Footnotes in Gaza and Palestine, The Great War is not a comic but is an astonishing work of art not to be missed.
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on 2 November 2013
This contribution to the 100th anniversary literature of the First World War is outstanding!

To convey the first day of the Battle of the Somme in one single illustration is or was an amazing feat of planning, forethought and patience. When this is combined with an ability to research thoroughly, get facts and details correct, with an undoubted skill as an illustrator is no mean feat. Joe Sacco has achieved all of these and more.

It is worth noting that whilst Sacco concentrates on the British side of this still questionable battle, the fact that his single line illustration has no words, no dialogue means impartiality and objectivity are assured. The reader makes of this vast, panoramic illustration what he or she will. However, to aid the reader Joe Sacco and Adam Hochschild have provided a commentary which comes as a separate booklet. This commentary is by way of an explanation of what is described in the illustration rather than a commentary in which judgement is made or passed. This latter point is particularly relevant because many argue that the Battle of the Somme was badly planned - donkeys leading lions - and pointless. It achieved little beyond satisfying the politicians needs to be seen to be doing something in the eyes of an increasingly sceptical public - who in their ignorant, middle class home comforts had no idea, no comprehension, no awareness of what 'their boys' were going through in north eastern France.

The first day of the Battle of the Somme was also the worst day in British Army history. They suffered more casualties on that single day than on any other occasion, before or since. It was a futile waste of so many young men's lives. There are many who believe statues of Haig should be removed because he was the principal donkey who lacked the skill and ability to lead a 'great' battle, safely protected by being so many miles from the front line and never getting his boots dirty...

In artistic terms, this illustration says more about draughting skills, an ability to observe human, animal, nature and inanimate objects far better than any of the so-called modern artists - including most of the Turner Prize winners - who can do nothing but pontificate at length about nothing because they lack the natural ability to draw. Joe Sacco's illustrative skills put these pretentious 'artists' to shame! Here is real art; real drawing with a very real understanding of perspective - attributes that Renaissance artists took in their stride and which the present incumbent holding the post of Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy would do well to study and learn from! It is so refreshing seeing quality drawing in a world dominated by digital media.

It would have been good to have had even a short piece about Joe Sacco's approach to his drawing, but then I understand that this would possibly detract from the primary purpose of this book. However, in the accompanying booklet he does introduce the concept.

This is extremely well-produced, on quality paper. It comes in a matching, rigid slip case (a rarity in itself these days!).

In summary, I would strongly recommend this book!
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on 1 January 2014
Sacco's work in this book is utterly amazing. Thought provoking, detailed, informative and very powerful, the addition of the description booklet puts the incredible artwork into context.

Please do not hesitate to buy this book.
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on 5 February 2014
This is a well written and illustrated book. A great read for
those interested in the First World War. I bought it as a present for
my husband who has thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
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on 15 January 2014
Bought this as a Christmas present for a family member as it was significantly cheaper than buying it in a shop. I was impressed with how well it was packaged and how quickly it arrived :)
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on 2 November 2013
This is a beautiful artefact and one that covers the whole narrative of that awful first day of the Somme. The detail is amazing as each page gets closer to the front line, gives a real feeling of just hitting an explosive brick wall. The last few pages then concentrate on the process of recovering the injured and burying the dead. In each part of the panorama are a thousand smaller stories. Very moving piece of graphic art.
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on 19 December 2013
This unique book/panoramic frieze contains so much detail, that many happy hours will be spend studying it closely. The text is good, but the drawings are really worth sharing.
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on 2 January 2014
A great discussion point and hours of pouring over the drawings. Felt their was something too 'nice' about it though, compared to the horrors of what it was portraying.
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