If you don’t have time for Antony Beevor’s monumental The Second World War, then try Canada at War. It’s a new graphic novel history of World War II that’s both an excellent primer on Canada’s role in the war, as well as a unique approach to history. Literary and non-fiction graphic novels have been moving mainstream since Louis Riel, and more recently The Complete Essex County made a Canada Reads shortlist. The graphic novel format lends itself particularly well to military history, which has a tradition of battlefield painters and photographers, with Two Generals being a notable recent example. Canada at War is the newest addition to this genre.
Canada at War is an interesting take on Canadian military history. Rather than a traditional chronological history of the war, it looks at the branches of the Canadian armed forces – navy, army, and air force – up until 1944 when it shifts to following the Sicily and Normandy campaigns. It’s historically accurate and highlights some of the lesser known Canadian contributions to the war, especially the fighting in the Atlantic.
The art relies heavily on computer drawing, but this gives it a clean mechanical look that is appropriate to a history of the first global mechanized war. Readers familiar with war photography will notice the influence of classic photographs, such as the always striking shots of troops unloading from landing craft onto the Normandy beaches.
The authors have produced a unique book that will certainly capture the attention of students and educators, but is mature enough to attract other readers. It avoids the violence-porn of some video games without hiding the brutality of war, and also considers the moral questions and personal costs inherent to war. As we move away from knowing about World War II through our grandparents’ stories, Canada at War will introduce new generations to this part of our national history.
Text and Illustration Copyright ©2012 Paul Keery and Michael Wyatt. Images reproduced by kind permission of Douglas & McIntyre.