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First Second Books

First Second 1

Written and Drawn by Gipi
Translated by Spectrum

Giuliano and his friends Little Killer and Christian lead the classic “lives of quiet desperation.” They have grown up in a small, unnamed Balkan nation, and that nation is now at war. With who? Why? These are questions that might seem important, but surprisingly, the boys don’t seem to care. Instead, they concern themselves with stealing in order to get by. However, their lives take a huge turn when they meet a man named Felix who teaches them to use their skills in new ways and begin devoting themselves to something a little more organized. But the question then becomes: what is the war, really? What role are the boys truly playing? And if they don’t understand any of it, then what does it matter if they have a role at all? The nature of war is to strip away humanity, but if you lacked humanity to begin with, then what is there to lose?

If it sounds like Gipi has put together a brilliantly intellectual graphic novel, you got that right. NOTES is a powerful story that works on many levels; it’s a meditation on the development of friendships; a crime drama; a peeling away at the layers that exist between patriotism and scoundrels; and a look at the personal cost of a war that no one understands. Few books I’ve read recently have packed the emotional punch of this one, and it stayed with me. After I put it down, I went back to it and sampled some of the scenes again, reveling in their impact and admiring their construction, as written and as drawn.

Looking at the stuff we’ve seen from Gipi over the past couple of years (THE INNOCENTS, GARAGE BAND), it’s obvious that we’re watching a genius in the prime of his creative career. NOTES FOR A WAR STORY is a definite contender for year-end honors, and is a book I would recommend to smart, mature readers, and one I would expect to see gain huge traction in libraries.

Marc Mason

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