Historically war comics have enjoyed cyclical success. In comics early days war comics were a staple with titles like “Star Spangled War Stories” and “Sgt. Rock and his Howling Commandos.” In recent years war comics seen a great resurgence with Joe Sacco’s “Safe Area Gorazde” detailing the war in Eastern Bosnia and recent war comics by Garth Ennis at DC. For AiT/Planet Lar Publisher Larry Young this renewed interest in war comics can only be good news.
Coming from AiT/Planet Lar March 20th is “White Death,” a 128 page original graphic novel set in World War I by Rob Morrison and Charlie Adlard. “White Death” was originally published in 1998 by Les Cartoonists Dangeraux (LCD), a collective of European creators including Morrison and Adlard. “White Death” was one of the final projects they published, but it wasn’t well received for a variety of reasons, none having to do with the book’s content. Published in an over-sized graphic album format that’s common in Europe, where comics have a warmer reception amongst adults than in the U.S., the book lacked the “continental” feel the European market looks for and having a foreign sounding name and a non-standard format killed it’s chances of success in the States. LCD closed up shop in late 1999.
Enter Larry Young.
“One day I had heard that Les Cartoonists Dangereaux was closing up shop, and honestly, seconds after I heard, I was on the phone to England.” Larry Young told CBR News. “I rang up Charlie and asked if the publishing rights had reverted back to him, or if he even had any interest in having another edition put out. It was as simple as that. Since I already am sending him money anyway, he brought the nineteen pounds of art boards to San Diego and gave them to me to be relettered. His charcoal work for this book is really beautiful to look at. Quite different from his ‘Astronauts in Trouble’ and ‘The Establishment’ work. I wish he’d work in this style more often.”
“‘White Death’ was initially my idea to do something for myself,” Charlie Adlard told CBR News. “I was probably at my most disillusioned period with the industry at the time – I felt the need to get away from the work-for-hire ethic and do something very different. But I didn’t know what…
“I kind of had the idea of the technique I was going to use and a very hazy idea of setting something in WW1 just because it might suit the style I was aiming for.
“Not having the confidence to write it myself – even with the encouragement of my fellow artists – I contacted Robbie Morrison. He and I had worked together before and had become friends – I respected Robbie’s writing and knew we could work together. I felt he had the right attitude to something like this and likewise was looking to expand his oeuvre – and he’d work for no money!”
Adlard got in touch with Morrison who ran with the ball and fleshed out the story you’ll see in March.
“‘White Death,’ being based upon historical fact, grew from the initial idea into a fully-fledged story mainly through research,” Morrison told CBR News, “the period, the location, the convoluted background to the conflict, the horrific experiences of the combatants, and the camaraderie that developed amongst them through these shared experiences.
“I wrote a fairly detailed treatment of ‘White Death,’ coincidentally while I was actually in Italy, and took the majority of the character’s names from a First World War memorial in the town where I was staying.
“Charlie produced preliminary sketches and visuals from this, including an incredibly powerful opening sequence which I only wish I could claim credit for. Following that, I started writing the full script, which – because of the convenient episodic structure of the narrative, and the fact that we were both engaged on other projects at the time – I delivered to Charlie in batches of six to ten pages.”
Adlard approached the art on this book in a completely different way than previously. The intent was to capture the interest of a foreign market and this style seemed the best fit to attract foreign readers attention.
“The style – charcoal and chalk on gray paper – has been a technique I’d been wanting to use for a while and this project just seemed so right for it,” said Adlard. “It was a very fast way of drawing – I was doing 3-4 pages a day – but by it’s very nature, it’s a fast material – going slow would only spoil it. I’m still really proud of what I drew and still rate it up there with my best work – Actually I’m proud of what we ALL achieved with ‘White Death.'”
“Of all the comic-book projects I’ve worked on, ‘White Death’ possibly remains closest to my heart,” said Morrison. “In my mind, the object was to produce a strong, powerful, mature story, which could have appeared in any medium – film, television, prose or comics – which are as valid a method of storytelling as any of the others. The story’s
everything, as far as I’m concerned. ‘White Death’ may have its flaws, but overall I like to think that Charlie and I did a pretty good job.
“While I was working on it, Charlie also paid me one of the nicest compliments I’ve had as a writer. After I sent him the scenes in which Francesco Cadorna visits the wounded Alberto Diaz in hospital, Charlie called me up to say he had a tear in his eye after reading them because they were so moving.
“‘White Death’ was a pleasure to work on, and it’ll be great to see it in print once more.”
Publisher Larry Young is equally excited to have “White Death” back in print.
“It’s a powerful story of conflict at a simultaneously personal and national level, well-told by a talented writer and illustrated by one of the best artists in comics, all wrapped up in an attractive package,” said Young. “If a reader is looking for a story with a beginning, middle, and end… a satisfying graphic novel to curl up with in
front of the fireplace, or to throw in a backpack and read on the bus, ‘White Death’ will entertain you. This graphic novel is what the comics form is all about to me; a complete story in a nicely-designed, portable delivery system
which juxtaposes words with pictures and offers up a superior story.”
While AiT/Planet Lar has never published a book featuring war as the theme, that alone may have been the most attractive element to Young.
“‘White Death’ is an attractive book for us to offer exactly because we haven’t published a war book before,” continued Young. “It was a book that had gone out of print, and we felt there was an untapped market for it; that a work of such high quality deserved wider recognition than it originally received.”
As to why war comics have proven so popular over the years, Young has his own theories.
“For me, it’s a natural extension of playing with plastic army men as a boy. That led to reading the ‘Unknown Soldier’ and ‘The Haunted Tank’ and ‘Sgt. Rock’ and all the rest. The camaraderie of men taken from their homes to fight a common foe, that sort of thing. It’s a fertile ground for stories; adventures, lessons, instructive parables, any sort of story you care to tell can be told with a war as a backdrop. Plus, stuff blowing up is just cool.”
Look for “White Death” in comic shops March 20th.