Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics

Above the Dreamless Dead was published to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War I. It contains a multitude of Trench Poetry by a long list of poets: Rupert Brooke, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, Robert Graves, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Francis Edward Ledwidge, Patrick Macgill, Wilfred Owen, Issac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Osbert Sitwell, Charles Sorley and Edward Thomas. These poems capture high art, the horrors of war, and also some of the profane responses from a number of soldiers. Very helpfully, the back matter of the book gives more information about their individual lives as well as a separate section that describes the context of their poems.

The poets are paired with a number of equally diverse and talented artists, including Hannah Berry, Stephen R. Bissette, Eddie Campbell, Lilli Carre, Liesbeth De Stercke, Hunt Emerson, Garth Ennis, Simon Gane, Sarah Glidden, Isabel Greenberg, Sammy Harkham, David Hitchcock, Kevin Huizenga, Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, Peter Kuper, James Lloyd, Pat Mills, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff, Luke Pearson, George Pratt, Carol Tyler and Phil Winslade.

The poem adaptations are split into three sections: The Call to War, In the Trenches, and Aftermath.
From Thomas Hardy and Luke Pearson's "Channel Firing"
From Isaac Rosenberg and Peter Kuper's "The Immortals"

From Osbert Sitwell and Simon Gane's "The Next War"
The results are a wide range of powerful and provocative images. I really like the use of black and white to highlight the dark lines and contrasts, as well as the alternations between realistic and cartoony styles. These poems do not shy away from grim realities, loss of faith, or any type of politeness. The Great War, with its bloody and brutal combat, stripped away a lot of veneer and nicety of society and left those who fought it reeling and forever changed. Those are the kinds of sensibilities exposed throughout this volume, with some interspersed bursts of raunchy humor contained in the war songs that lighten matters up.
This is one of the tamer parts of the songs.
I would not say this is a book for young students, but it is a record of the time and a compilation of many works that would be excellent for high school students to contend with.

Chris Duffy edited this literary volume of comics. He also edited Fairy Tale Comics, one of my favorite books for younger readers. Duffy is a veteran in the field who edited Nickolodeon Comics for 13 years, as well as the Bizarro Comics anthology for DC Comics and Spongebob Squarepants comics for Bongo Comics.

All I have read about this book contains great praise. In a starred review Publishers Weekly wrote that "the real strength of the anthology comes both from the poems selected for it and the variety of visual approaches." Paul Gravett remarked that it provided great evidence that "the marriage of poetry and comics is a deeply fruitful combination." Rob McMonigal recounted his favorite entries from the book and concluded that it was "a great anthology series and well worth picking up."

Above the Dreamless Dead was published by First Second, and they provide a preview and much more here.

And a great, big thank you to Gina for the review copy!

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