They died without stopping. Thousands of bodies piled up, on one side and the other of the trench. A rifle; the burst of a machine gun; a sniper who, hundreds of meters away, pulls the trigger. But also the edge of a bayonet. Or simply winter. Because, in a war at 40 below zero, an oversight like falling asleep during guard duty was also lethal. On a page of the comic To Novgorod (Editorial Standard), so many corpses accumulate that there is no time or way to bury them. “The cold ends up adding them to the parapets of our battered defenses”, states soldier Teodoro Recuero Pérez, from Extremadura from Serradilla who was not even 30 years old at the time. And that he ended up in Russia, in 1941, as one of the thousands of volunteers from the Blue Division that Franco gave Hitler for Operation Barbarossa. Based on his real story, Víctor Barba draws the fate of hundreds of Spaniards —and Russians— sent to slaughter themselves under the snow: “It was important for me to show the folly and harshness of war. And no matter how much I did it, I always fell short ”.
It serves, even so, to get an idea of that hell. And, in addition, the reading can be expanded. These weeks, several comics delve into the Soviet ice to relive the war and its consequences. All take as their basis or inspiration the authentic victims and executioners of the shock that changed the Second World War.
In Sara (Evolution Comics), Garth Ennis’s script and Steve Epting’s pencils follow a group of Russian fighters, hell-bent on decimating Nazi lines from the shadows. Its protagonist evokes Liudmila Pavlichenko, considered the most lethal sniper in history, with 309 certified casualties. At the moment good (Nordic Comic), by Jan Novák and Jaromír 99, on the other hand, lets Operation Barbarossa resonate in the background: the USSR already dominates its satellites when the Mašín brothers raise the resistance of the Czech Republic against the communist invader. Not long ago, moreover, Past and Present published an illustrated version of The Second World Warby Antony Beevor. Cold and Death in the Soviet Union have been written and filmed many times. Now the comic wants to draw them too. And with names and surnames.
“The life of the Mašín could be the most dramatic Czech story of the 20th century,” says the back cover of At the moment good. A mix of noir, western and spy novel, but caught up in reality. “All the events portrayed in the comic happened,” says Novák, author of the original novel of the same name, which was a success in the Czech Republic, and scriptwriter of the comic. The sabotage, the torture, the assassinations, the partisan struggle. The only creative license is something of synthesis. Even the stark graphic style plunges the reader into the cold Soviet regime. “There was a certain monumentality, pathos and clarity in the art and propaganda of Eastern Europe under Stalin”, defends the creator, who discovered the Mašín thanks to the filmmaker Milos Forman, who studied with the brothers in an institute that also tanned at future Czech President Václav Havel.
Aesthetics also speak in To Novgorod: as hard as life in a trench. “What was interesting for me was not the life of one person, but representing many Spaniards who ended up in that war,” says Barba. Hence it was granted to add invented events and characters. The fund, however, is all real, just like Recuero’s journey: affiliated with the Communist Party, he enlisted in the Falange to save himself during the Civil War. And then he joined the Blue Division in search of bread and sustenance. “In Russia, there were convinced divisionaries; others who had no choice. And then, guys like Recuero, who go because hunger is pressing them. How many people fought on one side having sympathy for the other side? ”Says Barba. In any case, history and the orders of the elite dragged each other into the same bloodbath.
“If you have a great story, all you have to do is not let your ego get in the way. Sometimes life draws such improbable situations that you would never dare to invent them, ”says Novák. And he adds: “A great advantage of the comic is that it travels very easily between cultural and linguistic borders.” Although, to tell and illustrate the story, you first have to know it.
To write SaraEnnis confessed that he has been “all his life” reading about the military that defended the Russian front. After all, almost a million enlisted in the Red Army during World War II and the Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich has already rescued their memory in War has no face of a woman (Debate). In addition to several secret police documents, Novák had access to the living story: it was Mašín himself who told him about their adventures. In a review of the original novel, the Czech writer Josef Škvorecký wrote that his adventures brought to mind the Homeric heroes, with the difference that the brothers really exist.
Teodoro Recuero also lived. And, to rescue his memory, Barba counted on the advice of his grandson, Ángel L. Fernández Recuero. He also relied on several books, and on Professor Carlos Caballero Jurado, an expert from the Blue Division. Although he underlines, “from respect”, that he does not share the “vision” of the scholar, in his opinion too generous with the Francoist body. Barba believed that his work would be “looked at with a magnifying glass” and made an effort to find his balance: “Neither praise the Blue Division, nor revile the men who were in the trenches. What it should be was anti-war ”. Hence, in the face of the umpteenth massacre, Recuero wonders: “What idea can justify something like this?” The answer is silence: 10 cartoons, not a word. Only faces of deceased soldiers.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.