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Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics
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Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  550 ratings  ·  148 reviews
As the Great War dragged on and its catastrophic death toll mounted, a new artistic movement found its feet in the United Kingdom. The Trench Poets, as they came to be called, were soldier-poets dispatching their verse from the front lines. Known for its rejection of war as a romantic or noble enterprise, and its plainspoken condemnation of the senseless bloodshed of war, ...more
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published July 15th 2014 by First Second
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Dave Schaafsma
Sep 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This year is the 100th anniversary of the Great War, the "war to end all wars," ha. And who of us knows much about it? Jane Addams, once the most famous woman in America, was vilified for taking a position that the war could have been avoided, of course she was right, and she was later hollowly vindicated, in a way, by being award the Nobel Peace Prize. If you are a student of literature, maybe especially British literature, you are aware of the trench poets of that war, those who wrote poems li ...more
First Second Books
Aug 14, 2014 marked it as first-second-publications
When our editor, Calista Brill, came into the office fired up about 'trench poetry,' I had no idea what she was talking about.

Two and a half years later, I'm so glad that I've gotten the chance to learn more about this really fascinating category of writing -- poetry written from the trenches of World War I.

And I'm glad that with ABOVE THE DREAMLESS DEAD, we're able to share these fascinating, thoughtful, viscerally written poems with a new generation of readers, with an all-new comics interpr
High school teachers, use this book! I would have loved to use this when I taught history and English. I went through a stage in my 20s when I read a lot of the World War I poets--Sassoon and Brooke mostly. But, whoa, this version rocks. So easy to incorporate into the classroom.

In the introduction, Duffy notes that many Americans don't know much about World War I, and I agree. Trench warfare was horrible and deadly--shell shock was common, and soldiers thought their commanders were idiots for
Good collection of poems in comic book format. I still don't know too much about World War I, but in the intro Duffy acknowledges that he finds Americans seem to have little knowledge of the war. I remember being taught in school, but it was brief, probably because we talk more about the Civil War and then World War II. Regardless, you don't need to know too much about the war since these focus more what soldiers think about during and after wars. Also, I like the fact this is black and white, I ...more
Aug 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
World War I is a bit of a black hole for most people, both historically and literarily. This brief and lovely collection edited by Chris Duffy sets about to shine a little light on those dark times, featuring twenty-seven poems or songs by thirteen of the so-called Trench Poets. Each poem is interpreted by a cartoonist, only a couple of whom pull double duty, offering a fantastic spread of voices and images dealing with the three phases of the war: the patriotic build-up, the time spent in the t ...more
Oct 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Above The Dreamless Dead is one of those books that is worth reading no matter the format, although I think that the physical copy is worth reading for the tactile experience.
Read the rest of my review here
Kier Scrivener
"Do not survive the bitterness that war begets: the century of carnage since your slaughter made cynics out of very nearly all"-Siegfried Sassoon

I found this book beautiful and tragic. I especially was drawn to Owen and Sassoon's poems and the reflection on how the war affected the minds of those involved. The illistrations really added to many of the poems especially the Next War.

"And not the peaceful delivered at such dreadful cost. Mishandled just as surely as the war, it did no more
Timons Esaias
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There is a fiction and poetry of World War One (much of the fiction written by the poets) that matches the Iliad for richness and power. And like the Iliad, those works are open to re-working and re-interpreting by later generations. (Not a year goes by that there isn't a major retelling of some part of Iliad/Odyssey somewhere in the world.) I see this book as a strong entry in what could be a very fruitful tradition.

I loved this. The WWI poets, especially the British poets, wrote some immortal
Jan 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Above the Dreamless Dead is a collection of poems and stories from World War One soldiers and veterans that were turned into a bunch of comics. The art styles in this book were really cool. Each poem kind of had their own style of art. Everything was in black and white, but the art styles were very different. Some were very simple and had very basic open shapes where are others were more scribbley and lacked clean lines. Then there were some that reminded me heavily of Jared Lee's art. Over all ...more
Mark Flowers
Aug 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Starred review from SLJ (

Plus read my interview with George Pratt, here:

There are various dates given as the first day of World War I, from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, to the first shots fired by Austro-Hungarian soldiers on July 28 to the August 4th declaration of war by the British Empire, signalling the truly world-wide stretch of the conflict. Whatever the case, there is no d
Jan 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: world-war-i
3.75 I love poetry, definitely enjoy a good graphic novel and teach history, so I thought this was going to be right up my alley. I did enjoy it, but I was surprised to realize that combining the poems with a graphic novel just didn't quite work for me. The poems seemed disjointed as they were split up over different panels and the artwork really distracted me from the overall enjoyment of the poems. I think I would have enjoyed it much better if each poem was completely intact and the graphic n ...more
Jun 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
Editor Chris Duffy merges words and images in this unique look at World War I. Poems from the soldiers, authors, and writers from that era are paired with a contemporary artist, tasked with illustrating the messages contained with. While a unique experiment, the book's engaging premise is also its downfall. Many of the poems are capable of generating their own mental imagery, yet they become bogged down under the weight of artistic interpretation. This is especially the case with the more comple ...more
Oct 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
What a fantastic idea! I would never have encountered most/all of these WWI poems if not for this book, and some of them are really beautiful and will stick with me for a long time. As with all anthologies, I liked some of the poem+comic chapters here better than others, especially because there were so many elements that had to all come together here to make it work, but there were a handful that did this so well they took my breath away. I especially loved that James Lloyd included a page of t ...more
Now I'm not a big poetry reader and often manage to completely miss the point of such things but these poems and the illustrations that accompany them broke through that and brought the horrors, difficulties and humours of war clearly and vividly to mind. The poems were written by the troops on the ground during the First World War as they were stuck in the trenches while the illustrations came later by those not there. A point acknowledged in the introduction by Duffy but one that does not seem ...more
Jul 20, 2016 rated it liked it
This is an interesting collection of literature that has been combined with illustrations. I don't want to say this is a never done before concept however this really brings life to some of these older poems and classical writings which helps bring them to a completely new audience. This would be a great addition to World War II lessons in school settings and are very interesting for students who are interested in war material. This might even encourage them to read more classics of the past. ...more
Stephanie Suke
Nov 14, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is about the 1st world war, it shows all the struggles and problems which the soldiers faced during this time and how everything fell into place. The artwork of this graphic novel is very interesting. Every chapter is a different poem and they are all different styles of art, so you really can’t get bored of it. The characters in this story aren’t really consistent. They are constantly changing which makes it even more interesting. Overall I really enjoyed this story.
Jul 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is so important. My favorite poem/comic combination was Robert Graves. I would highly recommend this for anyone studying WWI era history or literature, but I truly believe everyone should read this.
Edward Sullivan
An excellent collection of twenty World War I poems superbly illustrated by twenty leading graphic artists. Includes biographical information about each of the poets.
Mar 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: x2014-15-season
Interesting idea, pairing century old war poetry with modern comic illustration.
Soobie's scared
This was a bit weird. It came up as a suggestion here on GR and I read it because of my weird fascination with WW1.

Despite my English being quite good, I always have troubles understanding poetry without notes. In addition, the few poems I've read (and studied at school) all came with explanations and notes. Here my reading was a bit difficult. I mean, I would stop and ask myself: who is the poet referring to with that pronoun?

The art was OK, I guess. Like every anthology that are the good part
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen I had heard of, but not Isaac Rosenberg, or that they and others were collectively known as the Trench poets. “The Immortals” by Isaac Rosenberg “I killed them, but they would not die. Yea! all the day and all the night/ For them I could not rest or sleep/ Nor guard from them or hide in flight./ …I used to think the Devil hid/ In women’s smile and wine’s carouse. I called him Satan, Balzebub./ But now I call him, dirty louse.” (43-46)
Here’s a bit from Siegfrie
Kevin Wright
Jun 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Denny O'Neil once compared comic book captions to "headlines written by poets." For me, I love poetry and comics and I think they go great together. I can't say I love WWI, but it's impact on the artists of the day and the rise of literary modernism can't be overstated.

I had read Owen and Sassoon before, but was unfamiliar with most of the poets. I was happy to find a few new favorites to follow up on. But, the highlight was seeing George Pratt (of Enemy Ace: War Idyll fame) tackle 3 of Owen's
May 23, 2018 rated it liked it
The book Above The Dreamless Dead, is a good book to help you understand I poetry and comics what really happened during WW1. The pictures in this book make it easier for us to picture what happened and what it looked like. There were a lot of killings and injures during WW1. A lot of people didn't know what it was like to be in WW1 because they didn't have the chance but when you read the pomes they have in this book it makes you think that you were there. When you read this book you will learn ...more
Feb 18, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, world-war-1
This is a really interesting concept. I remember studying Wilfred Owen's poems as a junior in high school and being struck by the blunt, vivid way he portrayed the realities of war. I almost had Dulce Et Decorum Est memorized just because I could not get its imagery out of my mind.

And that's what this brief volume does— it melds words with illustrations, provides you with a visual interpretation that helps solidify a poem in your mind's eye. As with any anthology some of the renderings are bett
Jan 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
This slim volume is a wonderful exploration of history and poetry via the medium of comics, and it succeeds much better than I could have imagined. The selection of poems is perfect, and the pairing between artists and verses almost always works, and in some cases works brilliantly. Simon Game really steals the show with his pitch-perfect interpretations of poems from Rupert Brooke and Osbert Sitwell, while George Pratt's painterly compositions bring a powerful moodiness to three poems from Wilf ...more
Asher Henderson
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reading-350
Above the Dreamless Dead beautiful transforms a collection of poems written by soldiers before and following World War I by having various illustrators draw comic book-style drawings for each. The poetry is vivid, dark, and beautiful and the pictures find a way to make the poems both more graphic and more accessible for teenagers and college students. I will not be able to use this in my class, though I enjoy reading this, just because it is dark and aimed for an older audience than kindergarten ...more
Dec 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really well put together anthology featuring some favorite cartoonists - I didn't know this book existed as the subject matter is a bit off my radar.
The introduction by editor Chris Duffy addresses the issue of what or why the need for a project of this sort, and is summed up nicely in one of the final lines - "bearing witness to those who bear witness".

Really well done short pieces by Sammy Harkham, Lilli Carre, Kevin Huizenga, Carol Tyler, Luke Pearson and Anders Nilsen - seek this out if yo
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
The poetry of the early 20th century was imagistic and experimental. Many collaborators were able to bring to life (and death) the travails of WWI. This is done via adaptations of many of the poems arising from the time. The graphics and the poetry chosen are challenging to the eye and soul of the reader. Poetry is well served by graphic art representation - thus bringing out further meanings of the artists. I feel this is a graphic selection not to be missed.
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an extraordinary collection and impressive concept -- to represent the works of WWI trench poets like Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves and others in graphic form. The different styles depicted by the cartoonists are well matched to their subjects and capture the essence of the poems beautifully. Mostly it testifies to the horrors of war in any age and begs the question -- why do they persist? How have we not learned from the past?
Len Knighton
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-war-i
This is an extraordinary book. The drawings that illustrate the poems are dark and provocative. There is nothing comical about these comics with the possible exception of those depicting songs from the Great War. These “comics” bring tears, not laughter, but that is their strength. The words and pictures depict the horrific scenes that dominated Europe for more than four years. If we learn nothing else from this book, we learn of the suffering endured during and after the war.

Five stars
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From his blog:
"I'm currently a freelance editor and writer--mostly for comics, though I speak English good and can write without pichers too."

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