Goddamn This War! is not a traditional graphic novel. Instead, Jacques Tardi uses it as an illustrated novella, recounting a French World War I veteran’s experiences chronologically. Sometimes there are little stories–most of the pages have three wide panels top to bottom (with occasional exceptions)–and sometimes there’s carryover between them, but more often not. Sometimes the carryover is how Tardi juxtaposes panels on facing pages. This book is really well thought out.
Most of War is relentless. From the first page, since the narrator is speaking from after the war, there’s no humor. Tardi doesn’t even allow for sarcastic wit, though there are occasional jabs at the generals and the church. Tardi makes sure to recount how the church encouraged the war, which horrifies in special ways.
The protagonist does have a German counterpart, or at least imagines one. A soldier he keeps running across in peaceful situations. They don’t have a confrontation until the end, just before the protagonist returns home. It’s actually not as much a running subplot as some other things (Tardi always reminds about the soldier).
But he doesn’t stop with the end of the war. First are two pages of images of “survivors” of the war and all the damage done to them. Those pages are the book’s roughest.
Then, in epilogue, he uses second person to go through all sorts of people involved in World War I–soldiers from all sides, doctors and so on.
It’s devastating and always hard to read.
Writer, artist, colorist and letterer, Jacques Tardi; publisher, Casterman.