The Cartoonist, the Historian and Their War
A review of ‘Goddamn This War!’ by Jacques Tardi and Jean-Pierre Verney
While working on his classic World War I serial It Was the War of the Trenches, celebrated French cartoonist Jacques Tardi was approached by collector and historian Jean-Pierre Verney, who offered to correct some minor errors in War of the Trenches.
Initially hesitant, Tardi eventually relented—and then came to embrace Verney as a collaborator.
Their graphic history Goddamn this War!, published in English by Fantagraphics, is a companion to War of the Trenches.
Goddamn has two parts—a fictional war story written and illustrated by Tardi and a nonfiction chronology penned by Verney and illustrated by photos from his own collection.
The subject of part one is a nameless French soldier caught up in the war from beginning to end, each bloody year of fighting comprising one chapter. In the beginning, French lancers are still charging the battlefield on horseback. As the war goes on, German Zeppelins begin bombing cities and poison gas empties the trenches of life.
New and better uniforms are issued. New nations enter the fray and we cross paths with soldiers from all of them. The technologies and alliances change, but the lunacy and bloodshed are constant.
Each chapter begins with optimistic quotations from French generals and politicians expounding on the importance of the war and praising soldiers’ sacrifices. As the situation becomes grimmer, so does the art. The colorful panels of the first part of the book give way to muddy subdued colors then to stark black and white.
It’s a work dripping with cynicism and outrage. Frightened young soldiers are routinely executed for cowardice. Conscripts from North Africa and India are taken from faraway lands by their imperial masters and thrust into the cold, muddy, miserable killing fields of Europe.
Wounds are portrayed with gruesome detail. The dead are left on the battlefield to rot. All the while, generals and politicians call for more war.
The second half is Verney’s thorough retelling of the war that, while hardly groundbreaking, is enlivened by rarely-seen photos. Hard casualty statistics help put into perspective just how immense and destructive World War I truly was.
Tardi and Verney’s collaboration is an excellent addition to Great War literature. It’s also a stellar example of graphic storytelling—and easily one of the better war comics out there.