The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

The Great War by Joe Sacco

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Joe Sacco talks to The New Yorker about his new accordion book The Great War, which folds out to create a twenty-four-foot-long panorama of the Battle of the Somme:

When we first talked about my drawing a panorama of the Western front, the idea seemed static. But immediately I thought of the Bayeux Tapestry… which has a narrative. William the Conqueror in France is getting ready for the invasion; they’re building the boats; they’re crossing the English Channel; then there’s the Battle of Hastings, and you basically read it left to right. It just came to my mind that I could show soldiers marching up to the front, going to the trenches, going over the top, and then returning after they’ve been wounded, back through the lines to the casualty-clearing station behind the front. So it seemed like a very simple idea, and to be honest, I just wanted to draw. On a visceral level, it was just a pleasure to think only in terms of drawing.

It was a relief not to think about words, and to do a different kind of research. I did a lot of image research and I actually had to read a lot of books, because sometimes prose takes you where photography never went. I would read and get images in my head, and it was just a matter of putting them down. I’ve spent a lot of time doing journalism, and I still am interested in it, but I think the artist side of me wants to sort of come out now. And that’s what the Great War was to me, letting myself go in that direction.

Sacco talks more about the work in this video for publisher W. W. Norton:


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