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Review: ‘Above the Dreamless Dead’ takes readers into the trenches

Cover art for 'Above the Dreamless Dead'
First Second Books

Above the Dreamless Dead

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2014 marks the centennial of World War I, to commemorate the historic war, First Second books is releasing an anthology (available September 23), that combines trench poetry––widely considered a vital, creative expressive form that was born on the front lines of that conflict––and marries it with new visual interpretations from a corral of comic book and graphic novel artists.

The result is Above the Dreamless Dead, a visceral amalgamation of styles and subjects united around a single unifying theme. The poems and their new illustrated accompaniments range in tone from tragic to jovial and heart wrenching to suspenseful. Editor Chris Duffy did an excellent job in selecting works from varied Trench Poets––Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Rupert Brooke, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, Robert Graves, Francis Edward Ledwidge, Patrick Macgill, Wilfred Owen, Issac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Osbert Sitwell, Charles Sorley and Edward Thomas are all represented––and pairing them with a wide-range of comics artists. Hannah Berry, Stephen R. Bissette, Eddie Campbell, Lilli Carre, Liesbeth De Stercke, Hunt Emerson, Garth Ennis, Simon Gane, Sarah Glidden, Isabel Greenberg, Sammy Harkham, David Hitchcock, Kevin Huizenga, Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, Peter Kuper, James Lloyd, Pat Mills, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff, Luke Pearson, George Pratt, Carol Tyler and Phil Winslade were all called upon to create comics to accompany the immortal words of the poets.

Above the Dreamless Dead is inspired. The introduction of images to the poetry brings the front lines to life for readers, creating another touchpoint and layer of understanding for all of us who weren’t there. Though nothing can ever give true understanding of what it was to be on the front lines, there is certainly nothing that can come closer than the words of those who were there themselves. In addition to the adaptations of the poems the book includes notes on each of the pieces included, brief bios for all of the authors and artists featured and suggestions for further reading for those who find themselves keen to learn more about the Trench Poets.

This collection of beautiful adaptations carries with it the weight and resonance of history, which makes the experience of reading Above the Dreamless Dead memorable and weighty in a way that is reminiscent of the impact reading Maus can have. Fans of poetry, comics and history buffs alike should delight in this testament to one of the most significant conflicts in human history.

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Title: Above the Dreamless Dead
Format: Hardcover, Graphic Novel
Length: 144 pages
Release Date: September 23, 2014
Publisher: First Second Books, An imprint of Roaring Book Press