As more and more Franco-Belgian bandes dessinee albums are translated into English, the various English language publishers have largely ignored the non-fiction titles. While Cinebook have translated three of the aviation themed Biggles Raconte history titles as Cinebook Presents, it is good to see Phoenix Yard Books bringing Barroux’s Great War based On Les Aura! to English as Line Of Fire.
The book illustrates the war diary of an unnamed First World War French soldier as he is called up, leaves his family, travels to the front and is involved in battles with the Germans. However this is not the universally recognised trench warfare of the later war years but the free moving battles, and French and British rout, of the first months of the conflict. As the book describes in its a prologue section, Parisian Stephane-Yves Barroux found the book whilst walking through the city as two workmen were clearing out a building. Looking through the various old books and magazines in the pile of rubbish they had created, he spotted a hand-written jotter with dates for the late summer of 1914, the beginning of the Great War. This turned out to be the daily diary of an unknown French soldier that eventually proved inspirational enough for Barroux to illustrate those words from almost a century before.
The English language edition, which was published with the backing of the Arts Council England, begins with a new introduction from Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse, who emphasises the documentary nature of the book. While Barroux could have easily have paraphrased or edited what was there, he decided to use the original French diary entries allowing the story to be told as it actually happened. This means that the book is not a story of daring do with the protagonist being in the right place at the right time but rather what actually happened as he left his wife and children behind, was assigned a regiment, and then marched to the front, seeing the artillery explosions long before he even sees his first German soldier. This then shows what was important to the soldier during that period, not speculation what was going to happen when he reached the front but rather the more pressing questions of what he was going to eat and where he was going to sleep on any given day. When the regiment meets their first enemy soldiers the battle is briefly told as the French are overwhelmed and forced into retreat.
While Barroux uses the soldier’s own words, albeit translated into English by Sarah Ardizzone for this edition, there were had no images in that diary to base his artwork on yet the art style that he uses is sympathetic to the source material. With no colour film available, we look back on the First World War as black and white images, be they still or moving, and this book echoes this by using a sepia toned black and white palette throughout. In addition to this, Barroux uses a deliberately naive art style that fits the words so naturally it is easy to forget as you become absorbed by the story that these are images created by a professional artist in a modern day studio and not by a professional soldier in the fields and barns of France back in that late summer of 1914.
Over the course of the next four years there will be many titles published, both factual and fictional, on the Great War and with Line of Fire Barroux has created a fascinating book that shines a factual light on those ill-remembered first months of a conflict that is better remembered today for the trench warfare that it stagnated into.
• There are more details about Line Of Fire on the book’s official website – www.lineoffirebook.com
• There are more details of Barroux’s work on his website – www.barroux.info
There are more details of Phoenix Yard Books on their website – www.phoenixyardbooks.com
Stephane-Yves Barroux was the illustrator-in-residence at the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival where he talked about the background and creation of Line Of Fire as part of the Stripped ‘festival within a festival’. The review of Barroux’s Line Of Fire talk is available on the Stripped blog.