DAVE Dye’s The Anzac Legend is an extremely well-researched illustrated graphic novel that describes the initial landing at Gallipoli. At 218 pages, it represents years of work.
Since retiring from military service in 2011, Dye has worked solidly on visualising the conflict in a way that is accessible to readers familiar with Anzac stories, but with little understanding of the finer detail.
The illustrator ruefully admits that his degree of focus meant that more than one hundred pages was spent on one single day of the war.
“The 25th of April was the day we made our mark on world history,” Dye said. He was inspired by Charles Bean’s history The Story of Anzac.
Bean stated: “… the consciousness of Australian nationhood was born” on that date.
Dye turned to the medium of comics to shine a light on both the heroism and horrendous loss of life.
As a result, The Anzac Legend is an intensely moving work of ‘graphic history’, that rescues the names of dead servicemen from the footnotes of history books and gives them faces.
“There’s a lot of things I didn’t put in, I’d still be writing it,” Dye chuckles.
“I read [Bean’s] official history and the story really appealed to me.
“Most Australians grow up with the story. It comes round every year, rehashed. It’s the same old thing usually.
“But then when you actually read the history and find out how things happened and who did it – the guts and determination of the fellows who saw it through – that really got to me. It made me think this is something that a lot of people don’t know. They haven’t got access to Gallipoli and the Anzacs for one thing and if they do, it’s a wall of text. Who’s going to read that?
“By presenting it in a graphic format, maybe they will read some of it and absorb some of the actual detail of the story. You’re able to put a diagram down or a map, to enhance the visualisation, the reader’s comprehension of exactly what you’re talking about.”
That visual perspective also emphasises an overarching sense of tragedy, with Dye’s classic draughtmanship juxtaposing the adventure comic’s style of art with arbitrary, sudden loss of life.
“That is a way of making it more personal, to see that they were actually real people. How life can be cut short quite suddenly.”
The format also brings to mind the propaganda of war illustrations from that period, with depictions of the vicious ‘Hun’ helping make the case for war by politicians.
The eagerness of young Australians and New Zealanders to make the trip across the world is another poignant note to Dye’s story.
“They approached it quite light-heartedly. Very quickly they realised it wasn’t such a great place.
“One of the books I read on the subject was about a New Zealander. Someone got his diary and some of his letters after he died and compiled them into a book.
“He was quite keen for the first few months at Gallipoli, knocking the Turks over and killing. But I think after a while it started to get to him.
“After the war he didn’t talk about it.
“A youngster is the ideal age for a soldier. Really stirred by excitement and things like that. Politicians love to target young people for soldiers.”
The continuing importance of the Gallipoli landings and the national tradition of marching has shifted the meaning of the historical events in Dye’s opinion.
“The marches have moved from a commemoration to a celebration”, – another point he addresses in his book.
“The original Anzac marches were made up of veterans who had returned from the war, they wanted to commemorate their fallen comrades. They chose the 25th of April – I think it was already half-established as the official rallying date. So that continued.
“They marched down the streets of Sydney and the smaller towns where they got together. It was just a march for them to remember the people that had died.
“In later years, it changed. Bands got involved, people started to cheer them. I think they got their wires crossed.
“When the soldiers got back from WWII, they met a reception from people cheering them.
“They’d returned, they were victorious and they were alive. That was the celebration. But they’ve somehow mixed that celebration with Anzac Day, which is a commemoration. The commemoration aspect has been lost.”
By revisiting these events, The Anzac Legend depicts not only the romantic notion of ‘sacrifice’, but places it within the context of nations horsetrading armies to jockey for position as imperial powers. Dye also includes a memorable scene with Lieutenant General Sir James Whiteside McCay brandishing a revolver at soldiers afraid for their lives.
“People don’t know about that. I think those things make the legend stronger, because they’re real people. They didn’t want to get shot. They didn’t want to die. But they went back and knuckled down to the task.”
The Anzac Legend is available from Wotsleft Books (http://wotsleftbooks.weebly.com/) and can also be found for sale at The Australian War Memorial.