First Look: Parachute Into Nazi-Occupied France With ‘Six Days’ Graphic Novel From Vertigo

Vertigo/DC Comics Pop culture is no stranger to D-Day, the most ambitious amphibious assault in human history that gave the Allied powers a foothold in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. Once those troops landed on the beaches of Normandy in June of 1944, it was the beginning of the end for Hitler’s twisted and murderous war machine, which had spread its evil tendrils all across Europe.

Steven Spielberg devoted a gripping and shockingly realistic half-hour to the deadly landings in 1998’s Saving Private Ryan and more recently, Julius Avery took a more science fiction and alternate history approach to the momentous event in last fall’s Overlord . Now, it is Kevin Maurer and Robert Venditti’s chance to present their take on D-Day in Six Days , a new graphic novel from DC’s Vertigo imprint, which centers on the real-life story of how a group of American GIs—having parachuted deep behind enemy lines—bonded with the French villagers of Graignes for six days before protecting them from the Germans in a deadly showdown.

Robert Venditti ( Hawkman ) has a personal connection to the project, as his great-uncle actually fought and died in the battle. In bringing this story to the page, Venditti had incomparable help from Maurer, mainly a non-fiction author known for his New York Times bestselling book, No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden . After voicing my novice scholarship in the field of WWII to the good folks at Vertigo, I was rewarded with six exclusive interior pages from the forthcoming novel, which you can glimpse below in my Q&A with the writers:

Josh Weiss: Can you start by telling me a little bit about how Six Days came together?

Robert Venditti: Growing up, I’d always heard stories about my great-uncle Tommy, who was killed in action during the D-Day campaign. My family was never told the exact circumstances of his death, though. It was on the anniversary of D-Day in 2015 that I was telling my kids about Uncle Tommy, and I went looking through some old papers I’d gotten from my grandmother when she passed away. Among them was a letter from one of Uncle Tommy’s war buddies that was written to my great-grandmother. It mentioned the village of Graignes in France. After a few hours of research online, I found a photo of a memorial plaque hanging in the ruins of the 12th-century church in Graignes. Uncle Tommy’s name was listed among the Allied soldiers killed defending the village.

After so many decades, the mystery of what happened to Uncle Tommy was solved. But that was only the beginning of the story. The more I read about the Battle of Graignes, the more I was struck by the heroism and sacrifice of the soldiers and citizens who took part in it. It was a story that I knew deserved to be told, but I’d never written anything based on real events. Talking with Kevin at a comic book signing in Wilmington, NC, he mentioned his years covering the military as a journalist and his experience embedding with the 82nd Airborne. I knew right away that, if this story was ever going to be told, Kevin was the right person to join me in telling it. YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

Josh Weiss: Kevin, you’re more geared to non-fiction and Robert, you’re a comics veteran. How did your respective expertise blend on this project? Was it different from anything you’ve both done before?

Robert Venditti: Very different for me. Not just from the process perspective of writing something rooted in history, though that was certainly a challenge. Having someone of Kevin’s skill and expertise was a godsend because he knows reporting and the military in a way that only years of covering it can provide. Beyond that, though, there was the emotional challenge of the story. It’s embarrassing to say, but until Six Days , I’d only ever thought about WWII from the perspective of the people who survived because it’s the survivors who come home to tell their stories. Now, I was writing a story told from the perspective of my uncle, who was killed in action. I was talking to family members to try and understand who this man was. I’ve written hundreds of comic books and graphic novels in my career, but nothing has ever taken me to the places that Six Days did. It’s a very personal story.

Kevin Maurer: My role initially was to seek out information and experts to help us tell the story. We met Marty Morgan, who wrote a book about the unit and is an expert on the battle, and he helped us gather documents and information. I knew how to get information, but it was Robert’s genius when it came to structure and story. I’ve written comics in the past, but nothing like this. Not only is Robert a great writer, but his editing made every page I wrote better. Once we had an outline, we picked chapters and got to work. To Robert’s credit, he picked the hardest chapters – the quiet moments – and turned them into some of the most compelling scenes in the book. Josh Weiss: How did you make sure you portrayed these real-life characters as accurately as possible? What was the research like?

Robert Venditti: We’re coming up on the 75th anniversary of D-Day this year. So much has been lost to history. There are very few people in my family that remember having met Uncle Tommy at all. We tried to create a man based on what little we knew, then placed him into the scaffolding of the events that we know from the historical record. I know Uncle Tommy was killed in the final bombardment of the town, but do I know that he attended Mass that same morning? No. History does tell us that some of the soldiers were allowed to attend Mass with the villagers, though, and I know that Uncle Tommy was a Catholic, who was involved in his church in New York City. So, we placed him in the church and wrote the scene as best we could. We treated all the characters in the book the same. It’s a story based on real events, but it isn’t non-fiction. Our goal was to remain true to the spirit of the people and events at Graignes, but not replicate them. So much is unknowable.

Kevin Maurer: We did our best to tell the story accurately, but as we worked we found there were massive gaps in the record. Some of the dialogue is interpreted from interviews and narratives written after the fact. Marty was a great guide and we leaned on him to help us make sure we got the most accurate telling we could. But, we had to make some choices and fill in some gaps in order to have a complete story.

Josh Weiss: One thing I really enjoyed about the book was that the violence wasn’t too overdone. Was that always the plan?

Kevin Maurer: We wanted to lean into the confusion and chaos of combat and not the gore. The story was how they fought – outnumbered – for the man to their left and right. It was about French villagers and the paratroopers in a fight against all odds. What made the paratroopers heroes wasn’t how many Germans they killed.

Robert Venditti: The most difficult part was the final chapter, where the wounded soldiers and some of the civilians are executed. We knew that we couldn’t leave out that part of the story, but we also didn’t want it to become disrespectful. It’s an inherently violent sequence of events, but like Kevin said, the gore isn’t the point—it’s the tragedy and the emotion. The art team, Andrew Mutti and Lee Loughridge, really found that balance in their depiction of it. Vertigo/DC Comics Josh Weiss: Going off that, how does Andrea Mutti’s art inform the story?

Kevin Maurer: Andrea brought the whole thing to life. It’s one thing to see a story in your head, but another when someone like Andrea makes it better than your imagination. It helped he’d been to Graignes and his knowledge of uniforms and WWII weapons helped. But what got me most excited was his character work and the emotion he could draw out of each panel. The guy is a talent.

Robert Venditti: Andrea is the complete package. His use of black does so much to add mood and tone to the story. And it’s a very rare talent who can depict all the chaos and action of combat equally as well as the humor and tenderness of a scene in a café. His character acting, his facial expressions, and above all the emotion he conveys in each panel is staggering. Six Days wouldn’t be the same without him.

Josh Weiss: D-Day’s is something we’ve seen in pop culture before from Saving Private Ryan to last fall’s […]

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