Page 45 Review by Stephen
Clever, clever, clever.
Spectacular, but also clever.
By spectacular I mean this accordion-style hardcover folds out into a seamless, ridiculously detailed 24-foot-long panorama silently detailing the events which led up to the Battle Of The Somme, before launching into the offensive itself on July 1st, 1916.
Almost 20,000 British soldiers were killed and another 40,000 were wounded that first day, and there were more than one million casualties by the time the offensive halted a few months later.
Its clever because although there are no panel borders which leaves the landscape to bleed unstaunched over each successive page, it is nonetheless a comic: it tells the story in precisely the same way with the passage of time represented by space travelled by the eye from left to right.
It kicks off, of course, in the perfect calm and safe, sequestered splendour of General Haigs personal HQ, the Château de Beaurepaire, where every morning he takes a stroll round the grounds and then, in the afternoons, enjoys a spot of horse-riding escorted by the 17th Lancers. All very orderly. Jolly good!
Gradually the troops who actually have to do the fighting arrive (and by fighting I mean charge like sitting ducks onto an open battlefield to be blown to smithereens), along with the heavy artillery, crates of ammunition and fresh supplies. Its starting to get rather crowded but its still lovely and sunny with birds and bi-planes breezing across the sky above open fields, lush coppices and bucolic churches. Look, here comes the infantry, all jovial and jaunty, snaking between officers puffing on pipes and queuing outside a make-shift mess while cannons are being loaded and yeah
Welcome to the trenches.
The next sequence is particularly impressive, the shadow of night passing over the miles of maze lit only from the occasional bunker below and explosions in the distance explosions which, as the sun rises, are growing terrifyingly nearer, obliterating first the horizon then those careering over the top. Suddenly the landscape is no longer flat but pocked with craters, a million man-made volcanoes spewing earth and entrails into the air in a pointlillistic inferno. I think you can guess where it ends.
Every step of the way, Saccos art remains perfectly clear and balanced. He does lead the eye but never impedes it which, given the detail and chaos unfolding, is absolutely remarkable. Also, you have to admire the ingenuity with which he brings the background of the battlefield forward by curving the frontline trenches under the bottom edge of the page, so bringing us over the top as well. It recedes behind ruins and the military policemen arresting any soldier leaving the trenches without permission.
If youre wondering how I know some of these opening and closing details, a 16-page booklet is enclosed which includes an authors note, an introduction by Adam Hochschild and a reproduction of the plates along the bottom of the pages annotated with these details by Joe Sacco himself.
I honestly believe this will be massive. Well, it is massive: its 24 feet long you could use it as infants playroom dado. Give them some crayons to colour it in! However, figure its quality, the anniversary of WWI and the vast numbers of Page 45 customers buying presents for their dads and granddads and when asked what their relatives are interest in telling us that both generations are obsessed with war, well, this is what its good for: respectfully expressed and powerfully produced protest art.