It had had me searching the net, looking for an explanation as to why Trenches received positive reviews. It’s the kind of graphic novel that almost makes me question the tastes of others. (But I won’t. I don’t want to add to the lamentably widespread habit of critiquing fans instead of the works themselves.)
Trenches follows two brothers through World War One. It’s a string of small events, some all too familiar — a fight with an officer, a bar brawl, a gas attack — with a few flashbacks thrown in. In a recent New York Times article, Charles McGrath remarked how Craig Thompson’s Blankets “would be insufferably predictable in a prose narrative” but worked as a graphic novel. McGrath recognizes that each medium has different strengths and weaknesses. But I couldn’t help wondering what Trenches would have been like as straight prose, if only because I’m convinced it would bring out the sheer emptiness of it all.
But you can’t separate the illustrations from the story…and that’s where Trenches really falls flat. The art is terrible. There’s nothing inherently wrong with simple figures or minimal lines, but Mills’s art is insultingly crude. It looks like doodles he dashed off when he was a teenager. Despite the thickness of the book, Trenches can be finished in less than half an hour. But since there is little in the art or story to linger over, this is probably a good thing.