Tardi jumps around quite a bit in It Was the War of the Trenches, but does follow a general sort of narrative progression. Though the stories–it was originally serialized, with some delay, in anthologies–all feature their own characters and situations, they move forward in time. Even when Tardi resets at one point, the subsequent vignettes resume that progression. The book ends with armistice.
To say the book is anti-war is something of an absurd understatement. It’s impossible to imagine a pro-war approach to the first World War, but here Tardi does find some–inspiring poetry and songs from 1915, juxtaposed against the book’s only trench warfare scene. Though most of the book takes place in the trenches, as the title suggests, he only does one sequence with the soldiers running out and getting gunned down. He does it against a white sky, so just the soldiers and the battlefield are visible. It reminds of Goya, maybe the only time in the book the visuals are truly horrific, as Tardi lets the reader imagine most of the violence. When he’s upfront about it, a soldier holding his intestines in with his helmet, the soldier’s monologue is more terrifying.
Tardi’s vignettes eventually leave the trenches, with a particularly jarring entry starting in a lush forest. He goes through a lot of narrative devices to get the feeling across; it’s never a history lesson, instead an imperative look at the nature of humanity.
It’s an outstanding piece of work.
Writer and artist, Jacques Tardi; letterer, Ian Burns; publisher, Casterman.