Thursday, October 15, 2009

Notes for a War Story

Originally published in Italian, Notes for a War Story won the 2005 Goscinny Prize for Best Script and was the Best Book of the Year for 2006 at Angoulême, Europe's largest comics festival. Notes follows the exploit of three friends in a war-torn country and their efforts to stay alive. The three boys in the story band together, bicker, and form a pseudo-family when it seems that their families and town have been lost to them forever. Scraping together food and finding shelter become their major concerns as well as contending with desperate, violent people who are also trying to stay alive. Their lives take a turn when they meet up with Felix, a charismatic thug who sends them on missions. In return for doing his dirty work, they receive money, food, and weapons.

Throughout the story, the morality of war is constantly questioned. Causes and honor seem to fall by the wayside in the interests of survival and displaying strength. Gipi (whose actual name is Gianni Alfonso Pacinotti) wrote and drew Notes with his native Italy in mind, but he did not name any place in the story. He intentionally left the country unnamed in the hopes that readers would imagine the war happening close to home. The publisher of the book in the US, First Second, states on the book flap that it is meant to be set in a Balkan country. Wherever the story is set, the events portrayed are very realistic and moving.

Although very well received in Europe, Notes has not made as big a splash in the US, perhaps because the conflict is foreign to Americans. Taken as a survival story and an exploration of friendship in the face of adversity, I think that the book is very compelling and affecting. The book has received a range of reviews, from positive ones that point out the poignancy and emotional impact of the plot, such as this one by Brian Heater, and ones that comment on the strong characterization like this one by Jog, to lukewarm ones, such as this one by Andrew Wheeler who was underwhelmed by the book. In each, the reviewers also remark on connections to Garage Band, the first Gipi work published in English and the growth he seems to be displaying as an artist.

First Second provides a lengthy preview of the book here.

My thanks to Gina Gagliano at First Second who gave me a review copy at the 2009 Graphica in Education Conference at Fordham University.

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