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Book Illustrates the Second World War

Book Review: “Two Generals” by Scott Chantler

Patrick Twomey

Two Generals is a graphic novel about the Second World War written and illustrated by accomplished graphic novelist and commercial illustrator Scott Chantler. For many years comics have been tarred as adolescent distractions but have lately come of age as they have matured into the form of the graphic novel. This effort, by the author/illustrator of previous graphic novels, Northwest Passage and Three Thieves, is Scott Chantler’s first foray into non-fiction. Those who believe the comic book format isn’t serious enough for a topic as weighty as the Second World War, need only glance through the opening panels of this graphic novel to appreciate its impact.

Two Generals is the personal reflection of Chantler’s grandfather, Law Chantler and his best friend, Jack Chrysle. It recalls their story from the time of their enlistment in the Elgin Regiment before transferring to the Highland Light Infantry (now the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada), to their experiences in the brutal battle of Buron, just after the Normandy landings. The cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words” is perfectly reflected in this novel.

two generalsChantler’s illustrations masterfully capture the emotions of the scene without a word of dialogue, and in many ways this subtlety rings truer in this visual form than it would in a written description. From the first frames we see Law Chantler staring off into the distant sky as he smokes his cigarette. As the frame pulls back we see bodies scattered around him. You know his hand is trembling and you can feel the tension in these few frames.

Meticulously researched, the novel is a journey into a time in our history few of us have had the privilege of experiencing. One of the things that struck me most about this format is the greater sense of time and place of the story. Uniform and equipment details are there, and even pre-war locations are drawn in period-accurate detail. In Chantler’s hands, the graphic novel lends itself perfectly to telling a very personal story gleaned from his grandfather’s handwritten diary.

Beautifully bound, Two Generals can easily be read in a night, but you will likely find yourself returning to it to discover new details in its colorful panels. Recommended for all but the youngest readers, due to some of the graphic detail. It is an excellent way to introduce otherwise uninterested readers to an important time in Canadian history.

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