Wednesday, December 3, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2014: War Brothers the Graphic Novel

War Brothers: the Graphic Novel
Written by Sharon McKay and Daniel Lafrance. Illustrated by Daniel Lafrance.
Published by Annick Press (2013)

So you'll see that I've credited Daniel Lafrance as one of the writers of the work, and it seems that not every website does this. Presumably this is because this book was originally a young adult novel written by Sharon McKay, and some people have assumed that she also wrote this. But from what I can tell she didn't actually have any connection to the production of this book (other than approval maybe?).

This does bring up the idea of how much of a comic's "writing" and story are down to the artist. We assume that the words in the speech balloons are the writing, but most of the time there is much more, with a writer creating a script, breaking the story down into pages and panels and describing what's happening. Of course, there are examples of artists creating comics from much less than full script, with Marvel style probably being the best known example. If an artist creates the layout of a page, or even a character's outfit, should that be considered "writing"?


War Brothers is depressing. It's about children kidnapped to be soldiers in the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. (That's the group that Joseph Kony of Kony2012 runs.) So yes, this book about children being kidnapped at gun point, being forced to march through the jungle, starving, attacking and killing each other out of fear for their lives, having their ears cut off, and much more is based on real life. Hurray!

I haven't read the original novel, but Lafrance has done a good job in adapting prose into comic form. By this I mean that nothing seems to be missing from the original (it's entirely possible that there is, but nothing _seems_ to be missing), and that a complete story is told.

Throughout the comic the characters are well illustrated. Children tend to look like children (which is something some artists really struggle with), the use of colours is effective (especially in many of the night scenes), and Lafrance is effective in communicating emotions through facial expressions and body language.

For much of the story Lafrance doesn't use panel borders like many comics do. Instead the panels are bordered by gutters that are either fully white or fully black depending on the setting. While most panels use straight, rectangular borders, scenes of violence tend to feature much less regular panels with the black gutters at times seeping out onto the art itself.

There were a few times where I felt the computer lettering was not as strong as it could be. When you have panel borders changing depending on the scene it doesn't seem nearly as good when those scenes are lettered with fonts featuring identical looking computer fonts. Sometimes computer fonts are fine, but other times I really appreciate hand lettered sound effects and other text in comics.

Overall I think this comic is successful. It effectively tells a story where (I think) the real point is to educate people about something that is happening in another part of the world. And while it is depressing, it isn't as hopeless as some media about Africa can be. (This opinion piece from Fuse ODG about the portrayal of Africa in western media is kind of interesting.) If you're completely unaware of the situation regarding the LRA it might be more useful to read the Wikipedia article I linked to above, but this is worth reading too.

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