Thursday, April 7, 2011

Two Generals, by Scott Chantler review

"But as these stories are handed down to us, so must we hand them down lest such delicate lines be lost among the broader strokes of history." —Two Generals, p 132.

Shelves of WWII books dominate the history section of bookstores. Yet the vastness of that conflict is reduced to just a few narrow subjects. The same paratroopers, tank commanders, and fighter aces tend to receive the greatest attention. Two Generals, a graphic novel about an officer in the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, is a refreshing contribution to WWII history. Scott Chantler's visual approach presents his grandfather's experience in a way more meaningful than simple text might allow.

The illustration style and production quality of Two Generals is excellent. The bulk of the story is told in sepia-greys, with emotional or violent panels set in red. Producing the hardcover edition in the form of a diary (with bookmark) was an especially nice touch.

Scott Chantler is a cartoonist and illustrator. Check out his comic blog to see his other graphic novels and to see more reviews of Two Generals. Chantler took on the historian's role by referencing his grandfather's personal diary and the official Highland Light Infantry of Canada unit history. He spoke with the current battalion historian* and interviewed a veteran who served during WWII. This research is presented in his Two Generals research blog. I had the greatest fun researching my own WWII book, so I am eager to read the background to his story.

As well-researched as it is, I feel I must point out one historical inaccuracy. On two pages there is a depiction of German paratroopers dropping into the battle. Although these Fallschirmjäger were certainly present for the Normandy fighting, they did not arrive from the sky. Superior Allied air power prevented German flights and Hitler was uneasy about large scale air drops after the disaster in Crete, so the paratroopers arrived by truck and by foot. Chantler can be forgiven for this mistake, because the scene is based on the perceptions of his grandfather. I interviewed several Normandy veteran GIs who shared this misconception. In the weeks after hitting the beach there was a persistent rumor of German paratroopers dropping behind Allied lines. History proved it to be false, but to the main character of Two Generals the talk of paratroopers was real enough.

*The Highland Light Infantry fused with the Scots Fusiliers in 1960, becoming what is now the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada.

P.S. In Normandy the H.L.I. fought around Caen. Their story intersects that of my grandfather's when they went on to take a prominent part in the Battle of the Scheldt. I can't help but wonder if Chantler's grandfather and my own might have crossed paths while on leave in Antwerp!

P.P.S. Today it was announced that Two Generals is nominated for the 2011 Eisner Award.