When it comes to World War II it isn’t hard to root out deserving heroes. Perhaps the most heart-breaking thing is that so many lie forgotten, not even known by their own families, having given or risked their lives for the benefit of others.
A Thorn in the Side is about one of the many war-time heroes – Johnny Hopper – and those around him who he inspired. An Englishman living in France during the occupation, with his French wife and son, Hopper refused to accept the brutal enemy invaders. Instead, he and his wife joined the French resistance movement, fighting a guerilla war of disrupting supply lines and returning crashed allied fighter pilots to England.
Eventually betrayed, he ended up in a series of concentration camps. Despite the inhumane conditions and the torturous treatment of prisoners, Hopper’s will to defeat the Germans continued. Sadly this is no The Great Escape – instead Hopper survives a series of gruelling experiences until he ends up at Dachau.
Knapp recreates the war years of Hopper’s life in this fascinating graphic novel, from the German occupation to the allied liberation. Although firmly based in fact, Knapp has taken the liberty of putting words into the mouths of his subjects, dramatising their actions and vocalising their thoughts. It has been sympathetically done, with Hopper portrayed as a strong-willed man with no time for invading dictators and their collaborators. He’s brave and decisive, but he’s also human, and the further you get through Knapp’s book, the more you’ll ponder over whether, in similar circumstances, you could ever have been brave enough to do the same thing.
The monochromatic art style fits the era perfectly, with Knapp’s characters leaping from the page with a war-time look. He also manages to capture their physical degradation with chilling accuracy, as they deteriorate their way through the Nazi penal system. His use of light and shade brings the stark reality of the camps to life and his use of lower case lettering, unusual in comics, manages to add a certain gravitas that’s often removed from shouty, less sophisticated comics.
You might think that histories, biographies or even fictionalisations based around someone’s life aren’t well suited to comics, but A Thorn in the Side will prove you wrong, and is certain to appeal to anyone who enjoys reading about the unsung heroes of a catastrophic, devastating war.