Once again, Éditions La Pastèque offers us a graphic novel which goes off the beaten track with this book dedicated to Victor, a soldier in a Dutch anti-aircraft company swept by the german blitzkrieg in 1940. Against the backdrop of invasion and occupation of the Netherlands, this comic book addresses the difficulty of accepting defeat, the irreparable losses it engenders and this deep feeling of helplessness for men who have not really had time to stand up to the enemy.
May 4, 1946, Victor stops in front of the grave of his friend Chris. How did we get here ? The war. The war declared in 1940 by Hitler's Germany on the Netherlands who believed themselves protected by their neutrality. The invasion was sudden, brutal and swift, faced with the blitzkrieg the small DCA unit to which Chris and Victor belonged could not do anything. Moreover, certain episodes of this misadventure remain darkly enigmatic: one wonders about possible sabotage of material, the word treason is on everyone's lips.
In the alleys of the cemetery Victor finds Esther, his pre-war sweetheart, a young Jew who fled the anti-Semitism of the occupying troops and who broke off all contact. Esther is not the same anymore. Nothing is the same as before, for Victor war is above all the loss, the loss of his friends, his loves, his youth, his hopes ...
If the Second World War is a subject relatively often mentioned in comics, it is clear that the Netherlands is a largely ignored theater of operations. If only on this point, this comic (or rather this graphic novel given the format) therefore has a profound originality which can only attract our attention. The other great originality is the type of drawing, which does not want to be realistic, but is very simplified and very sober. We will leave to each his appreciation of this type of drawing, but nevertheless recognize that we necessarily lose in historical reconstruction (no details in the decorations, the uniforms ...), but that we gain in speed of reading so much is so good that the 260 pages read very, very quickly. With this type of drawing, we do not dwell on the setting, but on the expression of the faces of the characters and on the shots which leaves a large part to the emotions.
The scenario, skillful and catchy, makes it possible to deal with several key themes: doubt about the inevitability of war, helplessness in the face of the invasion, the feeling of betrayal, occupation, anti-Semitism, corruption. Two key themes characterize this first volume: loss and impotence. It is these two feelings which mistreat the characters and which make the dynamic of the work. We also sense that these feelings are the seeds for an entry into resistance which will certainly be mentioned in the next volume of this diptych.
This scenario is fictitious, but it is based on historical reality and the author's family memory. Erik de Graaf was indeed born in the Netherlands, in Vlaardingen, and focuses his story on the history of the soldiers of the 4th anti-aircraft artillery battery stationed in Smitshoek, the village of his grandparents. These troops being housed in private homes, the author's family accommodated some of these young soldiers, and their hospitality quickly made the family home a meeting point for young artillerymen. The author's family therefore had a front row seat when the German invasion began and Erik de Graaf was able to rely in part on this family memory, on photos, or even on direct testimonies such as the short diary kept by the soldier Gijs van Dam during the early days of the conflict. Some of these documents, and the family context which served as the breeding ground for this work, are presented at the end of the work in a file of around twenty very richly illustrated pages. This file is an excellent thing, because it allows the reader bathed after having read the comic strip in this heavy atmosphere of defeat and occupation, to leave fiction to touch the concrete through clichés, objects, documents ...
Erik de Graaf therefore perfectly knew how to use his family history to offer us a poignant fiction on an unknown episode of the Second World War while feeding the curiosity of the reader to make him want firstly to know the rest, and secondly to learn more about the history of the Dutch during this war!
Screenplay & Drawing: Erik de Graaf
Editions: The Watermelon