Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks (more or less), with each week devoted to a single writer. This quasi-week: Warren Ellis. Today’s page is from Crécy, which was published by Avatar and is cover dated July 2007. Enjoy!
Ellis started writing these short graphic novels for Avatar, and we got some pretty good ones out of it – Aetheric Mechanics and Frankenstein’s Womb are the others, unless I’m missing one – including Crécy, which is about the famous battle of the Hundred Years’ War. As Ellis notes, the battle occurred in 1346 and is famous for the fact that English longbowmen obliterated a far larger French force that fought on horses and charged right into the hail of arrows coming from the English side. It wasn’t the first time longbows had been used in battle, but it was the first time they had changed the tide of battle so dramatically. It also marked the beginning of “modern warfare,” as wounded on both sides were slaughtered rather than taken for ransom, contrary to the “rules” of chivalry.
We’re introduced to William of Stonham, who narrates the entire book in this manner, speaking directly to the audience. This is both a strength and a weakness of the book, as Ellis is able to create a fairly fascinating character who gets to say a lot but also means that we get a lot of the story through telling, not showing. William is one of those Ellisian characters who populate his comics – brash, foul-mouthed, iconoclastic – and we see that on this page, as William explains why the English hate the French and why this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Ellis underscores the fact that even though the English are the heroes of the book, they’re scumbags nevertheless. And he makes sure that we know that “cunt” will be used a lot in this book. This is a fairly humorous first page (Ellis has a wicked sense of humor, after all, and the entire book is somewhat funny), but it gives us plenty of information in six basic panels. As we’ve seen with other graphic novels, Ellis doesn’t have to hook the reader too much – we understand it’s a longer comic, so the first page is less important, perhaps, than in serialized fiction. But Ellis does try to hook us, not necessarily with crucial information, but with the way William speaks and the basic situation. If you like the way William addresses the audience and the words he uses, you’ll probably like this comic.
Raulo Caceres does a lot of magnificent work in this book, but he doesn’t have a lot to do on this page. We can see the incredible detail in Panels 1, 2, 4, and 6, as William stands among the forest. The map in Panel 3 is rudimentary, but Ellis adds some funny stuff. I’m not sure if Caceres scanned a portion of the Bayeux Tapestry and then manipulated it to make it look more organic in Panel 5 or if he just took that famous portion of the tapestry and drew it freehand (it’s probably not that hard to do). It’s too bad Caceres doesn’t get to show off more on this page, but at least we can see the hints of his work, which blossoms later in the comic when the battle begins. Ellis doesn’t even care too much to have Caceres lead our eyes – we read this like we would a book, going from upper left to lower right, and the book doesn’t break the six-panel grid too much. William’s eyes in the final panel are very nice, giving us an indication of some of the more subtle work Caceres is capable of.
So that’s Warren Ellis Mini-Week. Tomorrow we’ll start with the fourth writer who got a bunch of votes from you, the readers. I’m just trying to decide if I should do 6 days from only one of the titles he wrote, because I surely could! He has already appeared in the archives, if you care to guess who it is!