REVIEW: Two Generals

Two Generals

Written and Drawn by Scott Chantler

$24.99 / 144 pages

McClelland & Stewart

Every once in a while, I get a book in my hands, and I can tell it’s something special.  For some reason, it’s often a book about World War 2.  When Two Generals arrived, I didn’t know anything about it, other than it was by Scott Chantler, who’s Northwest Passage I had really enjoyed a couple of years back.  It turns out, I even spoke to Scott about Two Generals back when it was in a more nascent stage, but as will happen, all of that slipped my mind.

The first thing you’ll notice about Two Generals, published by McClelland & Stewart, is what a beautiful package it is.  It’s a hardcover, in the form of an oversized moleskine notebook, complete with elastic band.  The cover’s not leather, but it at least reminds me of leather, with the title embossed. Open the cover, and you’ll see pages with rounded edges, and a really nice non-glossy, heavy paper stock.  None of this makes a story any better, but if the presentation is this good, it suggests that the content might have also been assembled with exceptional care as well.  I was not disappointed.

I love fiction, but I don’t think anything gets me quite as excited as actual history.  Great stories are great stories, but great true stories have an edge.  When the first words in the book were “All of this his true,” I got even more excited.  Two Generals is an account of Chantler’s grandfather Law Chantler, who served as an officer in the Highland Light Infantry of the Canadian Military.  Like so many stories about World War II, this one starts as Law joined up as he saw things going badly in Europe, on his way to taking part in the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.  As an American, and a frequent consumer of World War II history, I never heard too much about Canada’s contribution to the Allied forces.  I know they were part of it, but it never gets talked about.  It’s always the Americans and the British.  But this story illustrates very clearly that the experience of Canadian troops was no less violent and terrible than those of American soldiers. Law Chantler’s HLI invaded Normandy as well, and while there hasn’t been a Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan about them, their contribution was no less dramatic.  Basically, the story was both compelling and relevant.  The slight differences between the ways Canadians ran their invasion and the way I’m used to seeing the story are minor but fascinating.  For example, the HLI outfit was supplied with collapsible bicycles for the invasion.  Interested yet?

Of course, none of this works if writer and artist Scott Chantler can’t make it work.  If you’ve seen Northwest Passage, you’ll know that Scott has an “animated” or “cartoon” style, which is to say he’s using a spare amount of lines to represent what he’s trying to show. It’s certainly not photorealistic, but illustrative.  The wide shots of the war zone, and military equipment all pass mustard, while the characters are fairly simple, yet still evocative.  All this is a long way of saying that if you’re a fan of Jim Lee, this isn’t the same thing.  Personally, however, it works very well for me, especially when used in a historical context, because this cartooning really cuts to the meat of the story, and the emotions therein.  One thing I loved was Chantler’s incredible use of pacing and silence.  There are pages where we, over the course of 6 or 9 panels, live in a moment, and Chantler isn’t afraid to let those moments breathe, while we watch the eyes of a character dart one way, or the silence that comes after an awkward moment.  Those are the pages when the humanity of the characters were most evident, and when the skill of the artist was at the forefront.

The most prominent visual device in the story is probably the use of color.  Most of the book is monochromatic, using black white, and a couple shades of military green. In scenes of death, violence, and terror, the green is replaced dark shade of red, not unlike the color on the cover.  The color becomes a signal to what sort of scene we’re looking at, and it registers immediately, the same way music might in a film.  It wasn’t overdone, and I appreciate the restraint the artist showed throughout the book.  

The word “elegant” kept popping into my while I read the pages, and looked at the storytelling techniques.  But at the same time, I was engrossed by the characters and their stories. I really wanted to know what happened.  It wasn’t as if I was unfamiliar with the 1944 Allied campaign in France, either. I’ve read plenty of books.  But the fascinating thing about those overarching stories is that there were thousands upon thousands of soldiers, and they each had their own story, a family at home, a hope for a future, and a complete uncertainty about where they were when fighting that terrible, but necessary war.  The pride Chantler felt towards his grandfather fairly radiated off the pages, but it was accompanied by a great deal of research and an attention to getting the details, dates, and facts correct.  Overall, Two Generals is a fantastic effort, and a very touching story, told with incredible skill. I give it my highest recommendation. Look for it in comic shops next week, and book stores now.

Story: 5    Art: 5    Overall: 5

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  1. Sounds like I need to pick this up. Thanks for the heads up review Josh.

  2. I like this art, thanks for the recommendation Josh. will look for this.

  3. Wow! This looks fantastic.  I love Northwest Passage.  Definitely added to the list.

  4. This looks very, very interesting.  I’ll be checking this one out.

  5. This sounds and looks great.

  6. Dudes: I just read this, and it’s every bit as awesome as Josh says it is.

  7. Love the design.