“Nobody wants peace more than somebody who has seen war.”
It’s graphic novelist Scott Chantler speaking.Now a resident of Stratford, the St. Thomas native is the author of what the Toronto Star called the best Remembrance Day book of the year, when it was published in 2010.
Inspired by his grandfather’s war diary, Two Generals is the Second World War story of St. Thomas resident Law Chantler and comradeat-arms, Jack Chrysler. In peacetime which followed, Chantler was officer commanding the Elgin Regiment.
Eight years later, Two Generals remains in print. It’s available online through Indigo and Amazon. St. Thomas Public Library holds two copies in its collection.
And Chantler on Remembrance Day is to discuss Two Generals, in an artist talk, Drawing the War, in connection with a current Museum London exhibition of southwestern Ontario cartoonists. Chantler is included in the show in which guest curator Diana Tamblyn says represents masters of the artform. His talk is 3 p.m. Chantler discovered his grandfather’s war diary a few years following Law Chantler’s death in 1997. Chantler’s grandmother was leaving the house and it was being cleared.
“In his chest of drawers next to his medals was this little, red 1940s pocket diary. I just opened it up and started to read.”
And the first entry was an eyewitness account of a woman being struck by a bus on the streets of London, England.
“That was the first diary entry I read. A pretty dramatic one.”
But though he had a number of historical graphic novels to his credit, Chantler had no intention of doing a book about his grandfather.
“My grandfather was a very private man. Like a lot of veterans, he didn’t talk much about the war. It was his private business. And I was younger then. I was new at this – I didn’t trust my abilities to to a job of it that wouldn’t embarrass him and me.”
But a decade later, his experience and confidence grown – and after hearing repeatedly he should (“I have to do this book just to shut people up!”) – Chantler began extensive research, and to draw.
And when Two Generals was released, the first graphic novel to be published by McClelland & Stewart, it shot up the charts.
The National Post has called the book “an endearing success.”
The Toronto Star, a “stunning success in bringing home the real foot soldier’s experience.”
And on social media, readers have described their discovery of the graphic novel. And their tears reading it.
Chantler understands their emotions. Because as he discovered the story of his two soldiers, Chantler shared them. “...The book is made to make you cry. It made me cry. I had a Remembrance Day that lasted three years. If anything, that was the effect on me ....
“I almost felt like I had fought a war by the end of it. You really have to imagine some brutal things and put yourself there.”
Coming from a family with a military background, Chantler says he understands the sacrifice made by Canada’s warriors.
But, he says, “I know the book has helped other people who didn’t necessarily have that.
“I’ve had a lot of people sway to me it made them think again about Remembrance Day, that they maybe hadn’t always taken it seriously. Or, at the time our troops were in Afghanistan, it made them think a little differently about what those guys might have been going through.”
The father of two boys, 15 and 12, Chantler hopes his sons share his own feelings about Remembrance Day.
“I really hope they get the feeling from it that I’ve always gotten. That it’s about honoring sacrifice, not about glorifying war.” Chantler believes his readers get it. “My grandfather was proud of his service. I think most veterans are. But I think most veterans also would tell you it wasn’t worth it – it wasn’t worth the cost.
“Those seem like two contradictory ideas. But if you can get those contradictory ideas in your head at the same time, you’re getting to what Remembrance Day really means.”
Scott Chantler ready to give a Remembrance Day talk on his graphic novel, Two Generals, inspired by his grandfather’s war diary. Contributed
Scott Chantler’s graphic novel Two Generals has been widely praised.