I’m not a historian but do have a passing interest in both history and comics. Recently I read Crecy by Warren Ellis which is an overview of the Battle of Crecy, as told down the lenses to the reader by a racist lout English bowman.
And it’s really worth a read, but some aspects play to particular tastes.
In short – it’s good.
I’m glad to have read it and was also interested to see how the writer and artist took a very confined scope and brought a story into it. The reasons and backstory is glossed behind the view of the main character, with enough context to allow the story to land on the page.
Crécy is a graphic novel written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Raulo Cáceres, depicting some of the events surrounding the historical Battle of Crécy. The graphic novel was published in 2007…
For – Arts style (a) suits the period darn well. In fact it is beautifully matched to the setting. There is no overstylised covering of the panels or tricks, and reflections of art from the period is used in places to make a counter illustration style very effective. The use of black and white makes the mud and blood mix, and the gore is stark. I really like the art, it’s a key reason the comic is very accessible.
To the camera voice (b) of the main character is very useful to draw in the reader, as is the modern language used to the reader as constructed to the language of the character when they are “on-stage”. His narration does help join the story together so that the reader follows all the events; although it’s not a complex story.
Panel transitions are clever (c) and the story moves very well. It’s also a good primer on the battle (d) which fed to my interests and the level of detail in the maps and tangential information is great. I’ve no idea if they’re accurate but they are well suited.
Against – well these aren’t nice to write, so here goes:
Foremost (a) the bowman is a blisteringly overt bastard, as is all his racist, brutal, and unforgiving views – to the point of unapologetic one sided screeds which are somewhat shallow of any depth of insight. The reader has to accept and like the character and I didn’t. He equally hates others too, such as the Welsh, just that he’s in the story about killing the French, so the others are on hold while they finish razing villages across the English Channel.
For example – Early in the comic and then amid a brief camp several side characters express their distaste for the war and state that they’d rather be home. But not the bowman, he is driven, rude and totally loyal to the wider cause. And he then slurs those other men as they speak. It would have been interesting to see more of the asides and views of the camp. That might add panels and pages away from the main theme, but it would also have added depth.
Further the racism of his character extends outside the historic setting to racist remarks about the modern French too. I like that the comic is strong and unapologetic in art and language, but the character of the bowman really does risk going too far. There were times where his sledgehammer-blunt narration took me out of the story rather than extending it. Perhaps the intended audience is expected to forgive a little thrash and banter for the sake of the material presented. I’m unsure.
Secondly (and very very trivially) I don’t think the narrator needed to speak in a modern way to relate to the reader. That’s a negative juxtaposition against what I said as a positive above, and to be clear it is the speakers understanding of the reader’s modern world – like all Frenchmen in modern day being cheese eating cowards – that perhaps wasn’t needed. I feel a narrator speaking his mind in context would have allowed the reader to draw their comparisons. The view the reader is meant to take away is fully produced and digested to the page, with very little room for reflection.
Lastly, the comic misses the opportunity to use the modern context it brought in to reflect how poorly the series of raids influenced further wars and fighting between the English and the French. Yes, Crecy was a savage victory, using battle tactics out of step with the rest of the period, and is therefore worth detailing; but did it really stop the French from crossing into England ever again? No.
History tells us that nobody learnt much from the Crecy attacks, which is really to be expected; as in 1385 the French invaded again and took the castle in Wark, and then far later the 100 years war took a large toll on both countries.