Sunday, December 31, 2006


War is Swell

Today's Independent of London has an entertaining stroll through the Spring publisher's catalogues:

Stuff (Cape, April) recreates the adolescent years of Martin Rowson, who looks back with a near-photographic recall, as befits an artist, at the house he grew up in in the 1960s and 1970s.... Another spin on the theme of the Seventies childhood comes from Harry Pearson. In Achtung Schweinehund! A Boy's Own Story of Imaginary Combat (Little, Brown, Jan) he recollects long hours spent playing wargames, manoeuvring tiny soldiers around his bedroom floor and painting Airfix models.

A fascinating variant of the latter's genre is by Warhol-colleague William Anthony in his War is Swell: A Kid's Idiotic View of World War II. I first came across it at the inimitable Quimby's in Chicago, and this NY Press review by John Strasbaugh in 2000 summed it up best:

His anatomically incorrect figures–heads like lima beans, torsos like potatoes, crooked tits and wrong-way-bending limbs–are the perfectly inept illustrations for his boy’s own version of the war, all gleefully ignorant jingoism, racism and just plain doofism.

One of the first things you notice is that it’s not all that different from the view of war presented in Saving Private Ryan or most any other war movie. Indeed, there are panoramic battle scenes here every bit as epic in sweep as Spielberg’s invasion of Normandy. It makes you think maybe all war stories are told by boys, to boys (with a few notable exceptions like The Thin Red Line).

Not, I’d guess, that Anthony has so lofty an intent in mind. The book’s too funny, the drawings much too likably dork. (Warhol once said Anthony’s earlier illustrated rendition of Bible stories was the only version of the Bible he could read.) "The Japs, they started it by bombing Pearl Harbor," Anthony sagely relates. We learn that "Hitler’s girlfriend was Eva Braun. Hitler didn’t know it, but she would lock herself in her room and boogie to jazz records," and that "Kraut officers were all born with big dueling scars on their faces. Their favorite word was: SCHWEIN," and that "Whenever Hitler conquered a new country, he would do a dance."

In the end, though, justice prevails: "Hitler had Eva Braun go and poison herself in their bunker. Then Hitler poisoned and hung and shot himself. Then just to be sure, he burned the bodies."

The cover alone says more than I could possibly add:

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