Much to my personal delight, I had the opportunity to read my new friend Chris Hunt’s phenomenal effort CARVER:A Paris Story.
This is a no nonsense, violent, layered, personal story of an ordinary man, Francis Carver, surviving extraordinary circumstances and what is left of that man in it’s wake. Carver is no Superman, he’s not Bond, he lives in a seedy world filled with denizens reasonable people avoid. Carver is also a relic of his time. His story is a revelation on a war I thought I was quite familiar with but in Chris’ talented hands, it was fresh and nuanced. I interviewed (more like chatted with an old friend I’ve never met before) Chris’ about this VERY mature Graphic Novel and will publish that Interview and my review (Shocker. I loved it!) in an upcoming All Things Geek.
I found Chris’ personal essay I shared below most insightful in how he approached the material. If you’re like me, you enjoy knowing how “the sausage gets made” in something special, a cherished comic that occupies a place of honor on your bookshelf you’re sad you’ve finished.
CARVER: A Paris Story, is one of mine.
The Comics are in the Details, from Grandpa’s House to WW1
By Chris Hunt
Carver (Francis to his friends) is the convergence of a great many influences of mine over the years from film, literature and obviously comics. I’ve covered some of them before but the obvious ones are Hemingway and Indiana Jones. Many summers were spent at my grandparent’s home in Westerville, Ohio wandering the neighborhood in my fedora with bullwhip on my hip, looking for signs of lost civilizations while keeping a lookout over my shoulder for nefarious characters lurking in the shadows.
Robert Wraley, my mom’s father is something of a mix between a rock hound, a historian and an amateur archaeologist. When the Hoover Reservoir a few miles from the house would get low at the end of autumn, he’d take me occasionally to go hunt for arrowheads out in the muddy grounds. His basement was full of flint and obsidian tools of various shapes and sizes he had found there and in the surrounding area. Amongst the arrowheads, there were geological surveys of the surrounding area, innumerable books on Native American history, Military history and a pretty killer collection of records. At one point I think almost 2,000 sq ft was dedicated to just books and vinyl. Despite my complete abject fear of that basement and going down there by myself, I eventually found myself leafing through these books on a regular basis, sitting on the threadbare couch that had been relegated to the basement years before, listening to Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly and John Lee Hooker.
Ultimately the basement library led me to gaining the context for many of the movies and stories I loved. For instance, I began to comprehend what a National Socialist was, and why it was so important for Indy to be the one to find the Grail before they did. Additionally I was learning about the environment around me, like why obsidian arrowheads existed in Ohio where the volcanic rock hadn’t ever formed. In short, I realized the importance of research and it was a lesson that stuck with me.
If you’ve followed along with me at all over the past year, it’s no secret that CARVER: A Paris Story owes much of its existence to Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese. Pratt had a much more interesting life than most people will ever get to live, myself included. Something that is immediately apparent when cracking open pretty much any volume of comics by Pratt, but especially Corto, is his extreme attention to detail from military uniforms, small arms, right down to indigenous species of plants. Since I set up my character Carver to be the American version of Corto, when it came time to begin the story in earnest I knew that a similar attention to detail would be required of me to do justice to the story.
It is not an exaggeration to say that I spent years researching the world that Carver occupies. I can tell you the kind of boots he wears, where he outfits, what company, his preferred firearms and a multitude of other seemingly inconsequential details. This is partly a holdover from my training as a theatre actor from my youth where I was taught to internalize a character from the outside in. It was a way of discovering and in turn exhibiting components of a character. Surprisingly both my acting training as well as my hobby of sleight of hand magic have come in handy as a cartoonist. It first served me well in the CARVER short film that was made before the book came out (a whole story in and of itself) but ultimately it served its greatest purpose in the book itself unsurprisingly, the culmination of which can be seen pretty early on in A Paris Story.
In issue two, Francis experiences a PTSD flashback to the First World War. This was my favorite scene to draw and this was due in large part to the significance this moment plays in Francis’ personal history. I hope it’s obvious, but this is truly where the boy begins to diminish, making way for the jaded, stoic character of Carver that A Paris Story is all about dissecting. Moving into the scene though, there are a number of elements that can give clues to where Francis is, who he’s fighting and how.
Francis wears an insignia on his shoulder in this scene that is also a repeating motif throughout the five issues. It is the profile of a Native American chief in full war bonnet, against a star all of which is encompassed within a shield. This is the insignia of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. It’s worthy of note for several reasons, one is that it was the first time American expeditionary forces ever adopted a campaign insignia of any kind, something that is now a common practice. More significant though is what the 3/6 did in June of 1918 when they helped repel a crack force of German soldiers and quite literally, held the line against overwhelming odds. Their doing so actually saved Paris from what would have been a short march for the German army into the city. This moment in the war ultimately came to be known as the Battle of Belleau Wood.
In Belleau Wood, some very significant moments in USMC history come to occur. For one, this was the first time that The Marines proved themselves as a fighting force abroad, gaining the respect of not just the French soldiers they fought alongside, but our own army and countrymen who had marginalized the force for decades. Perhaps the most significant thing to come out of this battle for the Marines though was a nickname fueled through action, that in turn fed their burgeoning reputation. It is said that the Germans were stunned by the ferocity of the Marines and their willingness to fling themselves into the breach, time and time again in the face of overwhelming odds and numbers, resulting in the term, “Teufel Hunden”. The Devil Dogs.
If we go further into the scene itself though we can start to delve into the kind of soldier Francis is at the onset of the fighting. Specifically I want to talk about the knife Francis uses as a last line of defense against the pursuing Germans.
At the time, soldiers weren’t issued what is commonly now referred to as a “combat knife”. Instead they had bayonets for their Springfield rifles they carried which worked well enough when affixed to the end of a rifle, but were large unwieldy things to attempt to use as a gripped weapon. Due to the emergence of trench warfare, experimental close quarters weapons were produced, such as the aptly named “trench knife” which was basically a blade with a set of brass knuckles built around the hilt of the weapon. These tended to be specialized weapons, and the manner of combat they were being developed for was in its infancy at the time. Somewhat concurrently though, two men in Shanghai working for the Shanghai Municipal Police force were in the process of refining what the weapon would eventually become, they just didn’t know it at the time.
There’s a lot written about Eric A. Sykes and William Fairbairn, particularly the weapon they developed when they were tapped by the Allies in WW2 to train a new kind of soldier called a “commando”. The knife and the fighting style they developed were a direct result of hundreds of knife fights both men engaged in while working in Shanghai. Before the refined prototypes could emerge in the early parts of the Second World War though, they tended to be ground down and reshaped versions of existing knives. Francis’ is a ground down M1917. At the risk of being too specific here, I’ll just say that there is a specific order of operations to how Francis ultimately disables the first German within the scene we are discussing. The implication being that either Francis had been advised to modify the weapon and use it in this manner, or he figured it out himself. What should be apparent within the scene though is that regardless, we are witnessing Francis’ loss of innocence as he takes a life for the first time. A particularly damaging experience for the empathetic young man. Without giving too much away about the conclusion to the story of Francis Carver, ultimately this knife, and the history of Sykes and Fairbairn will play a large role in his ultimate destiny. A destiny that extends into the decade of World War Two.
CARVER: A Paris Story was written and designed to reward multiple read throughs in mind and to my knowledge a great many of the references and easter eggs have yet to be found. There are more details buried in this particular scene even but I think it’ll be more fun to let audiences go down the rabbit hole themselves, if they should so desire.
Altogether this methodology of research and reference is peppered throughout the five issues that comprise A Paris Story. There are quotes within the story that imply who Francis may have fought alongside at Belleau Wood, in addition to a number of cameos from fictional and real life individuals from the era popping up in each of the chapters. That’s not even including references to the music and pop culture that inspired the story along the way, in some cases all the way back to that basement at my grandparent’s.
I take a certain satisfaction in speculating on the day an old, beaten up copy of my book is found by a young kid poking around their grandparent’s basement years from now, buried under a forgotten pile of books, next to some worn out vinyl and an beaten up couch. I can only hope that leads to a similar fascination as the one that produced it.
CARVER: A PARIS STORY by Chis Hunt
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