Felan Reads the Comics 7: Crecy

Ever wonder where that hand gesture comes from?

On Sundays, Felan profiles his favourite comics and graphic novels from across the diverse medium’s history.

Warren Ellis is one of the best comic book writers currently working, and although he’s primarily known for his particular brand of weird sci-fi and superhero comics, he’s incredibly prolific. Crécy is a unique work of historical fiction depicting the famous Battle of Crécy in 1346 during the Hundred Years’ War between the English and French, illustrated by Raulo Cáceres. This being Ellis, of course, it reads like the most graphic and profane “edutainment” comic or History Channel documentary you’ve ever seen.

Crécy‘s clever framing device is a longbow trooper in the English army named William of Stonham, who acts as both a participant in the story and as an omniscient narrator, directly addressing the contemporary reader and explaining what’s going on in an anachronistic, far-too-knowledgeable-for-a-peasant manner laced with lower-class profanities. Equal parts genuine historical insight, wry observation and filthy anecdote, Stonham guides us through the historical, cultural and material conditions leading up to the Battle of Crécy. Inserts including tactical maps, flashbacks to explain training practice, diagrams of military weaponry such as the fearsome English longbow, and so on are used to further convey the historical importance of the decisive battle and its impact on warfare ever since.

On the march.

Cáceres’ renders all this in an obsessively detailed high-contrast black and white style reminiscent of 1980s Vertigo titles, balancing gritty realism with slightly cartoony exaggeration that fits marvellously with Ellis’ irreverent dialogue. And, of course, the battle itself is presented in all its grimy, bloody horror, with piles of corpses and punctured eyeballs abound. As noted above, the story is really about how the Battle of Crécy can be seen as the death of chivalry and the birth of modern warfare. The lower-class English archers show no respect or quarter to the enemy, sticking hordes of mounted French noblemen with arrows from 300 yards away and then unceremoniously executing the survivors with daggers in the mud, upsetting hundreds of years of idealistic notions of class hierarchy and all the gentlemanly rules of war in the process. As William of Stonham eloquently puts it before stabbing a French knight , “Peasants aren’t supposed to kill knights. Are we, froggy?” Hilarious and educational!

Crécy is a one-off graphic novel from Ellis’ personal Apparat line, published by Avatar Press. More information can be found here: http://www.avatarpress.com/titles/warren-ellis-crecy/

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