It Was the War of the Trenches by Jacques Tardi - Foreword, Special Thanks, and About the Book

Foreword

It Was the War of the Trenches is not the work of an “historian”... This is not the history of the first World War told in comics form, but a non-chronological sequence of situations, lived by men who have been jerked around and dragged through the mud, clearly unhappy to find themselves in this place, whose only wish is to stay alive for just one more hour, whose overarching desire is to return home... in one word, for the war to be over! There are no “heroes,” there is no “protagonist” in this awful collective “adventure” that is war. Nothing but a gigantic, anonymous scream of agony.

It Was the War of the Trenches [New Printing Pre-Order]
It Was the War of the Trenches [New Printing Pre-Order]
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I purposefully stayed on the French side, for reasons that should be obvious. How exactly did the English react? What might the Italians have been thinking? It’s hard enough to get inside the head of a young man in the year 1914. Of course, most of the nations involved in the conflict are mentioned, there is a constant stream of references to the Germans, the “Boches” (I used this term without malice because it was accurate to the period). I hope to have been sufficiently clear that no one will accuse me of score-settling, let alone nationalism, and I did want to mention the unfortunate citizens of our “colonies” who were cheerfully invited to join in the “party.” What retained my attention is the man—whatever his color or his nationality — who is considered disposable, whose life is worth nothing in his master’s hands... a banal observation that remains valid to this day.

I was frequently moved as I gazed upon the photographs furnished by my invaluable archivist, Jean-Pierre Verney... images of poor souls, German or French, all of them displaying the hundred-yard stare, because regardless of the pose, their anxiety and fear shine through. I never ceased to wonder: How was anyone able to stand his ground under fire? How was anyone able to sleep? To wake up? From what source could one draw a modicum of hope to provide energy? The rain, the mud, the depression, the cold, the shells... Self-inflicted wounds, mutinies, desertion, now those I understand...

I haven’t told the “whole story” because that would be a monstrous enterprise. From when I first heard my grandfather’s stories, I’ve always been haunted by the desire to try to create an account of this early part of the 20th century. I consulted books, which I list in the bibliography and which often inspired me; I used them as departure points for episodes which I then fictionalized. It was not my goal to create a catalog of weapons and uniforms—although I did, of course, use documentation —even less so to render an accounting: How many shells per square meter, the number of men involved in such-and-such offensive. I avoided any and all “historical” events that have long ago been analyzed and filed away by historians, or better yet, related by witnesses; it is from the latter that I preferred to draw certain information. Because it should be noted that the “official” numbers vary widely from one historical work to another. I wasn’t there, so I had to rely on stories that were debatable to varying degrees, some of them questionable or contradictory. Here too the “specialist” will have his five cents to put in.

The only thing that interests me is man and his suffering, and it fills me with rage. This is our history, Europe’s history, and the 20th century’s—the century of industrialization and death, born in Sarajevo. The “First World War,” an innovation that seems to have been embraced: Gas broadened our horizons, gave us new ideas, it was all quite “modern.” These ideas were already inherent in Cro-Magnon man: Man carries this brutality within. Only the methods of extermination become more sophisticated, and in this context, we can salute the war of 1914-1918! Europe... 1917, the Russian revolution and the arrival of the Americans... we’ve been living with the consequences of these events for decades. Since then the situation has changed, I nearly wrote “evolved”... Every November 11th some ancient veteran is given a medal (how many of them are left at this point?). He was 20 years old in 1915 and his youth and his future were stolen from him. So... please don’t make fun of him...

TARDI (1994)

Books by Jacques Tardi (click covers for complete product details)

West Coast Blues
West Coast Blues
Price: $18.99
You Are There [Sold Out]
You Are There [Sold Out]
Price: $26.99
It Was the War of the Trenches [New Printing Pre-Order]
It Was the War of the Trenches [New Printing Pre-Order]
Price: $24.99

Special Thanks

Now, about the soldier who’s being judged in a classroom... are his hands tied?
No, no, the verdict hasn’t been handed down yet. He’s standing at attention, flanked by two armed soldiers... You can draw him bareheaded or with a cap, or with his helmet under his arm, or his helmet on his head.

He’s wearing his greatcoat?
...Or his tunic... belted, but without the cartridge belt.

By the way, this tunic, does it have any buttons on the back? A half belt?
No, nothing; seven buttons down the front, buttoned up in the middle, and a high collar.

Okay, so, the tribunal...
Well... You might have a colonel, a commander, a captain, two lieutenants. The lieutenants might have come from the front, you can draw them in their greatcoats, their helmets on the table in front of them; the others, in formal dress with their decorations. All sitting behind a long table.

When he’s being shot, is the soldier tied to a stake, blindfolded?
Not necessarily, only the ones who request it... Sometimes they place a white piece of cardboard over his heart... There is only one blank in the firing squad.

Twelve soldiers?
Or eight, it depends... You could have the officer addressing the soldiers, saying, “Don’t shoot over his head, or we’ll have to do it all over again!”

Uh, no, I can’t fit that in... Too bad, that’s a bit I could use, I’ll revisit it at a later date.

All of this over the telephone... I’m speaking with Jean-Pierre Verney, he knows everything about 1914-1918, down to the smallest detail. I use his services on a daily basis. Each and every panel of this book required one or more long telephone conversations. I’ve lost count of how many documents and objects he put at my disposal, I thank him for his expertise, his congeniality, and his patience in helping me.

TARDI

Books by Jacques Tardi (click covers for complete product details)

West Coast Blues
West Coast Blues
Price: $18.99
You Are There [Sold Out]
You Are There [Sold Out]
Price: $26.99
It Was the War of the Trenches [New Printing Pre-Order]
It Was the War of the Trenches [New Printing Pre-Order]
Price: $24.99

About the Artist

Jacques Tardi, who has just entered his fifth decade as one of the defining cartoonists of his generation, was born in Valence, France in 1946. Tardi broke into Pilote magazine with a series of short stories beginning in 1969, soon graduating to graphic novels. In 1976, he launched (for Editions Casterman) his turn-of-the-century serial Adèle Blanc-Sec, of which nine volumes have appeared, most recently (after a decade-long hiatus) Le Labyrinthe Infernal in 2007. The unsmiling heroine is being adapted into a trilogy of movies (“Indiana Jones meets Amélie”) by director/producer Luc Besson, with the first installment slated for release in 2010.

Tardi’s more than 30 graphic novels to date include a number of books about World War I (most recently the two-volume Putain de Guerre) and a long run of detective and crime thrillers, of which five star Léo Malet’s Paris-based private eye Nestor Burma. Tardi was the Grand Prize winner of the 1985 Angoulême comics convention.

Tardi continues to produce graphic novels at a pace that would be daunting to cartoonists half his age. His next release, after the just-completed concluding volume of Putain de Guerre, will be his third book based on a story by Jean-Patrick Manchette (after the collaboration Griffu and the adaptation West Coast Blues), La Position du tireur couché (The Prone Gunman.)

About This Book

It Was the War of the Trenches [New Printing Pre-Order]
It Was the War of the Trenches [New Printing Pre-Order]
Price: $24.99
As Jacques Tardi notes in his introduction, The Great War — that gaping wound in Europe’s history from which has sprung seemingly every horror that has afflicted us since — was on his mind from the beginning. As a child, he was haunted by his grandfather’s war stories; the War was the subject of the first “real” book he read; and when he tried, at the tender age of 22, to sell his first professional comics story to Pilote magazine, that was the subject he chose. (It was rejected.)

While Tardi’s work has ranged through many genres and many periods, from the 1812 war through modern-day France to a faux-Roman postapocalyptic future, he returns to that conflict again and again, sometimes glancingly (as in the Adele Blanc-Sec series, whose heroine sleeps through it, although she wakes up to witness its ghastly residue), sometimes head-on — as he does here (and his most recent work, Putain de guerre!).

It Was the War of the Trenches endured the longest gestation period of any Tardi book: Launched in 1982 in the pages of the legendary French comics anthology (A SUI VRE) and then continued two years later in the hardcover Le trou d’obus (pp. 9-28 of the present edition), it was abandoned for close to a decade and finally completed, once again in (A SUIVRE), in 1993.

But if French readers suffered a patience-straining 12-year wait between publication of the first and final episodes, Trenches’ long march to English-language publication doubled that: RAW Magazine published an early chapter in 19 83 (pp. 31-38); then Drawn and Quarterly cherry-picked three of the latter chapters for its flagship anthology over a decade later. It appears here complete in English for the first time, and newly translated, too — except for the RAW segment whose translator, Kim Thompson, vowed 26 years ago that he would some day complete the job. And so he has.

Books by Jacques Tardi (click covers for complete product details)

West Coast Blues
West Coast Blues
Price: $18.99
You Are There [Sold Out]
You Are There [Sold Out]
Price: $26.99
It Was the War of the Trenches [New Printing Pre-Order]
It Was the War of the Trenches [New Printing Pre-Order]
Price: $24.99