Two Generals by Scott Chantler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Very few comics have made me cry. This is one of them. The last handful of pages are masterful, as Scott Chantler reframes a scene we've visited several times before in the book, giving it new resonance and tying the whole narrative together in a way that packs real power. It's a brilliant example of thoughtful storytelling, emotional without being manipulative. But then, there isn't a pen stroke in this comic that isn't perfectly planned. Two Generals should be given to all prospective cartoonists as a tutorial on how to visually tell tales. Adhering to a strict layout based on a nine-panel grid, Chantler frequently relies on silence and small details to relate change, movement, and outward expression of inner thought and feeling. His pin-point eyes tell more about a character's internal conflict than most other comics artists manage when rendering a complete face. Also, his sparse use of color avoids gimmickry and instead conveys an added layer of meaning. The portentous use of the dark wine color that also adorns the cover of this handsomely designed graphic novel alerts us to deaths to come, like a more serious employment of the Star Trek red shirt. Except here, under the grim specter of war, any man is as expendable as any other.
Two Generals is based in large part on the diaries of the author's grandfather, a lieutenant in the Canadian army in World War II. Chantler's approach is, in some ways, "just the facts, ma'am," avoiding mawkish sentimentality; yet, he is not scared of nostalgia, humor, or genuine human connection. The comic also manages to honor the brave fighters without cheerleading or propaganda, in much the same way another visual medium, television, payed tribute to the soldiers in the miniseries Band of Brothers and The Pacific. I'm considering putting Two Generals on the same shelf as those DVD sets, even if it would fly in the face of my compulsive filing system. Someone get this novel in the hands of Tom Hanks, stat.
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