Terrible Sunrise

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Terrible Sunrise
Stan Martin

The French 'ave a real respect for comics as a genuine art form. Nip into any French bookshop and there's a good chance you'll find a large section devoted to Bandes Dessinnees, all in hardback and all reasonably priced. I was staggered by the selection on offer on a recent day trip to Calais. They even stock Tintin Au Pays Des Soviets in the supermarkets there, for a third ofthe price you would pay in good ol' England.
The point I'm trying to get to here is that if Stan Martin was at work in France his comics would probably be called graphic albums and his 57-page epic Terrible Sunrise would be published by Casterman. Of course, here in Blighty, where the art has withered and died commercially and modern 'comics' equals The Beano, only The Beano and forever more The Beano, so help us God, Stan's opus is home made, photocopied and only available through the post.
Photocopying, as we all know, does not reflect or diminish artistic quality. And Terrible Sunrise is a worthwhile and ambitious project. It is composed of a number of self-contained pieces which combine to form an intricate narrative about the beginnings of the First World War, in terms of its political and social ramifications.
The first thing that struck me about Stan's comic is that it looks great. He draws with lovely solid deep black lines and understands the relationship between darkness and light. There is a warm fluidity to his style that runs throughout his work, from the drawings down to the gently undulating panel borders and precise hand lettering.
Stan's storytelling is not always so assured, though it is consistently competent. The sequences dealing with the political situation of the time are less effective than those dealing with the ordinary individuals trapped within those events. The historical aspects are complex - this is not Stan's fault - but he assumes too much background knowledge on the part of the reader. I grew a bit weary of the political/historical diplomatic game-play in the chambers of power, which seemed static and over-wordy. I became bogged down by the dense depiction of political intrigue and half-explained subterfuge; I lost interest because the politics had become more important than the characters.
It is with his smaller, more human depictions that Martin scores. Opening Shots, which focuses on a group of activists in Sarajevo in 1914, foregrounds strong characterisation and illustrates the tensions between revolutionary ideals and human weakness, with drama and humour. By concentrating on the clumsy acts of the individual, Martin illuminates their links to wider issues. Call to Arms and Fair Play also grabs the attention through their seemingly authentic depiction of England in 1914. Their focus on popular opinion, propaganda and the individual demonstrates another aspect of the dilemma between ideological ideals and human limitation.
If Stan Martin's Terrible Sunrise sometimes creaks under the weight of the subject it depicts, it does not diminish this enjoyable and worthwhile project. Ambitious goals and innovation in the comics medium should always be applauded and celebrated; Stan's work is intelligent, readable and enjoyable too.
Vic Pratt.

Terrible Sunrise 60 A4 pages, colour stock cover   Recieved at ZUM! HQ:
no info
  £2 +P+P   Steve Martin, Betsey Heavens Comic Strip Company, 40 Glouscester St, New Town, Chester, CH1 3HR  
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