I hope you enjoy.
History has never been so interesting as Warren Ellis’s graphic novel,
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Raulo Caceres
48 pp. b/w
What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):
1346. Almost seven hundred years in our past. An English army comprised of villagers from across the
Since the Norman invasion of 1066, when a French arrow shot through the eye of King Harold II severed the English royal line, that hostility has bubbled hotly under the surface when it has not erupted into pitched battles. And now, three hundred forty years after that fateful time,
As they have spread their swath of destruction, the English have encountered little resistance. But now, the French have amassed their army, one comprised of the aristocracy, which is in stark contrast to the common men marching with the English. The French King, Phillip, has also bought the services of six thousand Genoese crossbowmen, mercenaries who march with the highest bidder. They are pushing the English forward, gaining on them quickly, forcing Edward and his forces to choose a spot from which to engage them or be herded like sheep into the sea. The place where they make their stand is the tiny
The addition of the Genoese to the French forces would seem to have tipped the scales into the Frenchmen’s favor. With their crossbows, these Italians should be able to slice apart the English with terrifying ease. Not only does the crossbow launch an arrow with far more force than the English longbow, but these soldiers are also equipped with tall shields called pavises. A descendant of the Roman Centurion’s shields, the pavise stands almost as tall as a man’s shoulder and is curved on its vertical edges so that it can stand on its own, providing its bearer hands-free protection. They can also be locked together in a makeshift wall so that hundreds of trained crossbowmen might stand safely behind this pavise wall while they draw back their bow strings. Once the arrows are set, they can then stand up and fire at will – deadly and efficient.
On the other side, the English stand tall with their longbows clad only in leather and fabric jackets padded with wool, not nearly the defensive equal of the French armor. They are also at an apparent disadvantage with their weapon of choice, the longbow, which is not made for accuracy, and when put up against an armored opponent can fare poorly as arrowheads will glance off if they do not fly true. But knowledge of the deficiencies of the longbow and an understanding of the weapon’s strengths are what could make all the difference for the English.
Years before, the King decreed that all men over the age of twelve were to practice with the longbow for two hours every Sunday after church. In these sessions, the men do not practice for accuracy but for range. Knowing they cannot pinpoint their targets due to anomalies such as the wind or inclement weather, the English strategy consists of eyeing the range of the enemy and loosing their arrows in concert, raining them down on their enemies. This strategy, along with a good helping of luck, will be needed if the English are to be victorious in
Warren Ellis is one of the most inventive writers working in the comic field today. No subject is out of bounds for him, and the ideas he drops into his narratives are as inspired as they can be mind-numbing. Tired of the same old tripe, Ellis is a writer who works to push the medium forward and throughout his career has created very personal stories that mix genres and literary styles while continuing to entertain readers. Having cultivated a loyal audience, Ellis is an author willing to experiment with his projects, and his audience seems intent upon following wherever he leads. Crecy, a piece of historical fiction set in the 14th Century that involves a time in history of which most people have no idea, is one of his most interesting experiments to date, as well as one of the most entertaining and informative stories I’ve read in a long time.
From page one, it is obvious that Ellis is leading readers into uncharted waters. The narrator, William of Stonham, breaks the literary “fourth wall” and speaks directly to his audience, relaying the story in a matter-of-fact style replete with the righteous disdain for ignorance that weaves its way into much of Ellis’s work. Told in a scathing manner, it is this vulgar superiority siphoned through the funnel of an intelligent protagonist – for as William of Stonham states, “We have the same intelligence as you. We simply don’t have the same cumulative knowledge you do.” – that is so entertaining.
Raulo Caceres, the artist on
An Interview with Warren Ellis:
Chris Beckett: Setting a story in
Warren Ellis: Well, you know, for me, setting stuff in
I knew the story of
And, of course, it's one of those great old English stories -- by which, of course, we mean a story about the English thrashing lots of those terrible foreign types.
Beckett: At what point did you make the decision to write
Ellis: No, not at all. "Fourth wall" is a long-established mainstream narrative technique, frequent in theatre, famous in cinema and far from completely unknown in comics.
Ellis: I have this notion that the graphic novella format can be considered a comics-store-exclusive format. It doesn't work in bookstores. It is, however, perfect for comics stores. It's a permanent-shelf-life item, like a graphic novel, but comics stores experience no competition on it, and there's no trade to wait for. I tend towards the short-form anyway, and 44-48 pages is, for me, the perfect length for the expression of some ideas. I'd like to see the notion of the graphic novella catch on as a specific format, one that we give just to Direct Market comics stores.