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.