||[Nov. 26th, 2008|10:10 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#62 CRÉCY – Warren Ellis, Raulo Cáceres
"We're not a very pleasant people, the English."
In 1346 an outnumbered English army outfought the French at the Battle of Crécy, using longbows to defeat the French knights before they could close. In that early example of a battle fought at long range, Warren Ellis and Raulo Cáceres’ comic finds the prototype of modern warfare – the back cover blurb even goes so far as to refer to the English army’s “shock and awe.” What could have been a dull history lesson about the death of chivalry and the roots of modern massacres-at-a-distance is kept lively by the conversational narration of the main character, an archer in King Edward’s army. His blunt style of talking directly to the reader – as if he knows he’s explaining all this horror to someone from the future who is looking back queasily – is spirited and gripping.
It’s also upfront about the characters’ prejudices. They simply are, a fact that is presented and explained without being apologised for. Crécy feels no need to depict its characters as ahead of their time for the sake of placating our tender sensibilities, but instead presents them honestly, medieval warts and all. As the narrator blithely puts it, “I am, of course, a complete bloody xenophobe who comes from a time when it was acceptable to treat people from the next village like they were subhumans.”
This is illustrated by Cáceres in a style somewhere between that of medieval woodcuts and the grimier kind of fantasy novel covers, filled with muck and dirt like the Monty Python middle ages where you can only tell someone’s the king because he’s the one not covered in shit. His style moves from atrocity to physical comedy with ease, as adept at drawing piles of mutilated bodies as he is at cheeky grins.
The chatty tone and the humour don’t mean you won’t be taught something by Crécy, however. The level of detail about archery makes it a kind of longbow pornography for those with an interest in the subject and the controversy among historians about exactly what happened on the day is also dealt with frankly. This specific kind of comic-book presentation of history can’t really be compared to anything else. There have been excellent comics about historical events like From Hell and works of journalism about war like Joe Sacco’s books, but this kind of documentary in comics form is without predecessor or peer.