Scott Chantler’s new graphic novel for adults tells the story of the Allied invasion of Normandy – focusing on the little-known battle of Buron – from the perspective of two Canadian soldiers in the Highland Light Infantry: Law Chantler, the author’s grandfather, and Law’s best friend, Jack Chrysler.
Chantler employs bold, straightforward lines reminiscent of mid-20th century comic strips and commercial illustration, while the palette of whites and muddy browns with muted red highlights effectively separates the workaday drudgery of army life from the drama of combat. Packaged as an embossed, faux-leather-bound field journal, Two Generals is a striking and pitch-perfect visual document.
Unfortunately, Chantler’s writing is less effective. Despite two of his primary sources being Law Chantler’s diary and Jack Chrysler’s letters to his wife, Two Generals is oddly impersonal, heavy on exposition and light on character development. Chantler narrates the story himself in a manner that is respectful, clear, and full of surprising details (such as the soldiers being issued bicycles to take into combat) that are alternately amusing and grisly. But Law and Jack are imbued with only the most basic personality traits. Two Generals was originally intended for a younger audience, and it feels as if Chantler hasn’t fully let go of that mode.
When Chantler drops the exposition and lets the characters speak for themselves, his strengths as a visual storyteller show through. One highlight is an extended sequence in which a woman sits reading while the now elderly Law Chantler lies dying in a hospital bed beside her. Expertly paced and minimally scripted, the scene is at once a tribute to Law’s life and a heartbreaking expression of pain at his loss.
Two Generals is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel about a largely ignored part of Canadian military history, marred by a narrator who will not get out of his subjects’ way.