Joe Sacco’s “Battle of the Somme” Fresco at Montparnasse Station

Joe Sacco’s “Battle of the Somme” Fresco at Montparnasse Station

The Montparnasse corridor where you step onto a moving walkway while switching metro lines is not usually someplace you’d like to linger. There’s a train to catch! But this summer, Parisians are descending underground at the Montparnasse-Bienvenüe station just to see the extraordinary fresco, measuring 132 metres, by Joe Sacco, whom Le Monde calls a “figure emblématique du BD-journalisme” (“an emblematic figure of comics journalism”).

His latest bande-dessinée, The Great War, depicts the first day (July 1, 1916) of the Battle of the Somme, one of humanity’s bloodiest battles, in which one million men were wounded or killed. That fateful day left the British army with 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded. Unlike Sacco’s other works, the book contains no words nor dialogue; instead, it’s a visual panorama, more than seven metres in length, that “folds like an accordion,” not unlike the unfolding narrative of the Bayeux Tapestry.

On the occasion of the centenary of World War I, the RATP invited Sacco to reproduce this extraordinary drawing as a monumental fresco on the mural walls.  At this scale, the details come to life and viewers feel like they are reliving history, immersed in the moments when the generals planned the offensive over a months-long period, when the soldiers positioned thousands of guns as reconnaissance aircraft flew over German lines, and the battle officially began at 7:30 am with heavy artillery fire.

On display until August 31, 2014.

For history buffs keen to learn more about World War I, France Media Group has published a special edition publication for the centenary. Find out more.


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