Mi Guerra Review

By | Tuesday, July 09, 2024 Leave a Comment
One of the great things about wordless novels by the like of Lynd Ward and Frans Masereel is that you can get any edition from any publisher in the world and still have no trouble reading it. The copy of István Szegedi Szüts' Mi Guerra that I rcently picked up, for example, is a 2016 edition from a Spanish publisher. I can't read the introduction* but the actual story itself has no such language barriers involved.

The story follows the life of a young man as he is called to fight for his country. He's initially excited and proud to serve, as he seems to feel it heightens his sense of masculinity. However, he gets a taste of realism once he's actually on the battlefield, and is eventually wounded. During his recovery in the army hospital, he sees many other soldiers who've suffered much more debilitating injuries than he has and he begins to understand the personal ramifications of war. His injury prevents him from returning to battle, but upon his release, he sees the devastating impact war has been having on civilians. Women and children being the innocent victims, both directly and indirectly. He becomes a protester and tries to get his government to listen and understand the atrocities that are taking place, but he is instead arrested and later executed by his own countrymen.

The most immediately noticeable difference between Szüts' works the likes of Ward and Masereel is that Szüts is not working here in woodcuts but in brushwork. He was, after all, a painter first and foremost. Indeed, I believe Mi Guerra would remain the only graphic novel he ever produced, apparently showing that Madman's Drum was only relatively brief source of inspiration. It should come as no surprise that Szüts appears to have much more fluid sense of design, and his enegy feels much more like it's leaping off the page. Paricularly impressive when you realize that many of the figures in the narrative are in fact just stick figures.

For Szüts, though, this seems to not be a limitation but an even-more expressive outlet. He seems to have a great deal of fun with his lines and they're consistently very dynamic. While his images are frequently abstracted enough that they don't match the contours of their real life counterparts (e.g. his buildings often don't even have straight lines) there's rarely any ambiguousness in what he's depicting. This is, of course, functionally very useful for storytelling purposes but also impressive in that he's able to represent some of the "gory" images of war that don't in fact show anything gory. There's the impression of dead bodies and mutilated corpses, but nothing vivid enough to be actually recognizeable. It's really quite an impressivee tightrope to walk, and I think Szüts does an excellent job throughout.

I do like Szüts' brushwork more than the woodcuts of artists like Ward and Masereel, or the leadcuts of Otto Nückel. That's largely a personal preference; I've always been fond of more fluid linework. I think Szüts' skill as a storyteller is comparable to Ward. Not quite as smooth as Masereel or Nückel, but generally very serviceable. Normally, I'd recommend Mi Guerra over any of Ward's work here, but given vast difference in availability of the two -- coupled with the volume of wordless novels Ward produced compared to Szüts' one effort here -- I wouldn't fault anyone for trying to track down Ward's material first. Szüts is worth investigating, though, and I think it's a damned shame that he's not been published as much as others. As I said, I had to get a Spanish edition from 2016. (Although I've since learned that Dover did in fact publish it in the US back in 2015. Props to whoever it was at Dover who was able to put out so many wordless novels a decade ago!) For as much as the likes of Will Eisner and Jack Kirby are worth studying, let's not forget all the gents who were working on the medium even decades earlier!

* Well, I can't read my printed copy. R.H. Mottram's introduction has been translated and is available online here.
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