Took a few minutes off from work and popped my head in to The Dragon comic shop in Guelph earlier today for the “Comics for Kids Days Book Launch Party with Scott Chantler” which combined a traditional book signing with an interactive drawing workshop for kids. It was quite a surreal experience, with Scott juggling his dual roles of serious chronicler of the horrors of World War II with the recently-launched Two Generals graphic memoir, which tells the story of his grandfather’s experience at the Battle of Buron with the Canadian Highland Light Infantry shortly after D-Day, with his newfound status as a kids comic creator and the genius behind the new all-ages fantasy graphic novel series Tower of Treasure, which squarely aims to capture the Bone demographic with a D&D-inflected tale of ogres and elves. When I arrived, Chantler was gamely leading a gaggle of prepubescent tots through a marathon drawing and colouring session, but he took a second to sign my copy of the Generals book as well as the latest issue of Canadian publishing bible Quill and Quire, which features a Chantler self-portrait cover. He noted that the issue is reportedly selling better than the usual photo-cover profiles of Can-Lit luminaries, an indication that Canadians are perhaps starved for comics content in their periodical reading matter. Nathan Whitlock’s profile of Chantler inside the magazine is recommended for its candid treatment of the editorial/publishing process and for several striking images, like the description of Chantler occupying the land “between Spider-Man and Seth.”
As for the book itself, it is quite an accomplishment. The design, by McClelland & Stewart editor Jennifer Lum, is top-notch. The book is packaged like a journal, with elasticized strap/book-mark and rounded corners in reference to the original source material of Chantler’s grandfather’s war-time diary and the various histories and letters of his comrades. Lum is also responsible for the striking colour choices in the book, having added dramatic reds to the scenes of violence and high anxiety in contrast with Chantler’s more muted step-by-step, mud and khaki basic-brown shading. While I agree with some of the criticisms voiced by Chris Butcher in his National Post review, Two Generals is nevertheless an impressive achievement in terms of research, historical detail, and emotional storytelling, effectively conveying a sense of physical jeopardy and psychic casualty with the combined use of crystal-clear-line cartooning, colour, and personal history. I don’t know if it’s the proximity to Remembrance Day and the accompanying avalanche of manufactured patriotism and state-sponsored melodrama, but I actually choked up a little with the story’s denouement. Even if I didn’t feel I quite connected with Chantler’s characterizations, the sheer volume of visual detail and narrative verisimilitude had the effect of sneaking up and temporarily overwhelming me, kind of like the advance of the Canadian troops on the Nazi Panzer divisions in Chantler’s comic.