Part of the U.S. forces’ airborne landings in France in June 1944, the Battle of Graignes was an important milestone of the Second World War, as French villagers and American paratroopers fought side-by-side against German forces. The conflict, which ended with Axis forces setting fire to the town, is at the heart of Six Days, a new nonfiction graphic novel from DC Vertigo set for release next year.
Co-written by Hawkman and The Surrogates’ Robert Venditti and No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden author Kevin Maurer, the graphic novel is more than simply a re-creation of an important moment of World War II; it’s also the story of what happened to Venditti’s own uncle, who died as part of the battle. Heat Vision spoke to the two writers about the project, which has art from Andrea Mutti, below.
This book feels like a combination of both of your experiences — Robert, you have the comic book background, and Kevin, you have the military nonfiction history. How did the two of you come to work together?
Robert Venditti: Kevin and I first met at a book festival a few years back. We’ve kept in contact over the years, and when I went to a store signing in Wilmington, North Carolina — Kevin’s hometown — he came by the shop. As we were catching up, I told him what I’d recently discovered about my uncle and his involvement in the Battle of Graignes. Kevin, as a writer who has covered the 82nd Airborne extensively, said I should write a graphic novel about it. I’d considered it, but the nonfiction aspect of the story was something I wasn’t sure I was suited to, because I’ve always written fiction. I asked him if he wanted to co-write the project with me, and everything moved forward from there.
Kevin Maurer: He asked me to help. I couldn’t turn him down. The story is too good and too important.
Robert, this is a personal story for you; your uncle not only fought in the Battle of Graignes, but also appears in the book. I know that the circumstances of his death during the Second World War were a mystery for decades before you discovered what had actually happened.
Venditti: We knew only that he was killed in action somewhere in France on June 11, 1944. It wasn’t until I discovered a letter written to my great-grandmother by one of my uncle’s war buddies that I learned where and how he had died, and some additional details about his burial as well. It was a great source of comfort to my family to have answers after so many decades. As I began researching the battle, I was overcome by the heroism and sacrifice of the soldiers and French villagers who took part. At times, the story was difficult for me to write. It’s very personal, so there’s a lot of emotion there.
What kind of research went into the creation of the book?
Maurer: We reached out to as many experts as we could find. Historian Marty Morgan was our spirit guide; his writing not only brought the battle to life, but he talked us through the details and provided a backstop so we didn’t mess things up. Andrea had a good grasp of the period and look for the book. His art elevated the whole story. He meshed perfectly with what we were trying to do.
Venditti: Working with Andrea has been incredibly rewarding. The first piece of art he produced after joining the project was an image of my uncle, and I could tell immediately that he understood what this graphic should be. He’s brought so much creative insight and energy to the story. We’re very lucky to have him.
The Battle of Graignes is a tragic, but important, moment in the Second World War — and one that is perhaps not as well-known as it should be. Is there a hope that, with Six Days, you’ll be able to at least help to correct this oversight?
Venditti: The most important thing to me is that we communicate the heroism and sacrifice that I was speaking of earlier. Not just from the point of view of the American soldiers — which I think is a common approach with these kinds of stories — but seeing it from the French villagers’ perspective as well. This is a war story, but at its heart it’s about two groups of people from different cultures coming together for the greater good. The world will always be in need of that.
Maurer: My hope is more Americans will understand what happened at Graignes. There was a unique bond between the American paratroopers and French civilians that makes the battle different from others during the invasion. So many sacrificed during this battle — both French and American — and telling their stories is the best way I know to honor that sacrifice.
Six Days will be released May 14, 2019, ahead of the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6.