Nice Day for a War by Chris Slane & Matt Elliott

Nice Day for a War: Adventures of a Kiwi Soldier in World War I
by Chris Slane & Matt Elliott
HarperCollins, 2011

This has probably been pointed out in every review, but New Zealand graphic novels are like buses – none for ages and ages, and then three come along at once. Chris Slane’s exceptional watercolours only appear on a third of the pages of this slim volume, to fill gaps in the archive photos accompanying this matter-of-fact account of Matt Elliott’s grandfather Cyril’s life in the trenches, but I’m not going to argue about whether it is or isn’t a “true” graphic novel – it doesn’t claim to be one, and it’s a bloody pretentious term anyway.

The title reflects the initial attitude towards this complex and nearly uniquely horrific enterprise… although wary after the Boer War, it was still sold to New Zealand men as a “Great Adventure”, a description that seemed more and more ironic as the bodies piled up. The story is unsentimental and deals with the boredom and monotony of the war as well as the inevitable disease and shellshock which comes from lying in muddy trenches being shot at by Germans for four years.

The text seems aimed at younger teenagers, and with the well-designed images effectively conveys the atmosphere and long-lost New Zealand character of the times – that peculiar mixture of modest staunchness and emotional repression which has made New Zealand men what they are today, for better* or worse**.

*Being practical is awesome!
*Rugby, depression, homophobic violence, unhealthy pies.

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