Writer: Joseph Sieracki
Illustrator: Kelly Williams
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions/IDW
WHAT IS IT?
Writer Joseph Sieracki takes his Grandfather's letters from World War II and breathes a new life into them.
The age-old story of a soldier fighting to stay alive to make it back to his loved one, with notes from the real world soldier mixed in with few fictionalized moments built around real battles.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Sieracki opens A Letter to Jo with a personal introduction in which he explains some of his family's history. This two-page introduction helps set the mood while explaining more on Leonard Sieracki's character.
Before we get into more of A Letter to Jo's story, one other bit of information needs to be noted: in the afterword, Sieracki's mentions that "...for purposes of this story, I had to fictionalize certain details about Leonard's experiences in the war." He further mentions that this is due to Leonard not talking much on the actual battles (or the soldiers' names), just naming locations. That in mind, Sieracki used historical texts and firsthand accounts to lend to consistency.
A Letter to Jo follows Leonard as he is drafted into WWII following his proposal to Josephine. Going through the motions and emotions of war, Sieracki uses his grandfather's final war letter as a narrative spine for a biography mixed in with some fiction. In the letter, Leonard chronicles his first few days in the military, the soldiers he meets, the places he visits, and finally the journey and end of his war.
Leonard's story is one of many, just a boy, drafted into war, who wants to make it back to the arms of a loved one.
In the back of A Letter to Jo, Williams shows other examples of the cover and the process. As great as one of his favorites is, the cover they went with perfectly encapsulates the feel of the story with the art, colors, and vibe. Even the manner the title is stacked is perfect.
As mentioned, Sieracki includes an intro and outro. A Letter to Jo is amazing in itself, yet the intro that explains more of his grandfather gives it another boost in storytelling. This also applies to the outro that explains the research that went into the making of this graphic novel.
The research Sieracki went through sounds time-consuming and painstaking, yet it amplified A Letter to Jo immensely and shows how he cares about his grandfather's story while trying to expand on parts that weren't in the note.
At the end of the comic, there's a huge extras column. This includes a photo of the original letter, a typed version of the letter, pictures of Leonard's time in the military, pictures of Jo, Jo & her friends (a scene recreated in the graphic novel), Leonard & Jo's Wedding Day, a poem Leonard wrote that is illustrated beautifully by Brett Carville, and a sketchbook section by Williams. As a huge fan of extras, this is awesome for me, as the team includes a lot in this section.
Sieracki's writing and the story he builds around the letter feel so damn human that at times you may break down into an emotional mess. The feelings that Leonard and the others go through are recognizable for many, and the slow descent he goes through is heartwrenching. A Letter to Jo will pull at your heartstrings, but damn will you enjoy every page of it.
The graphic novel is broken down into separate chapters that are titled with one word and an image contributing to said title. This theme works well for the story and 'Hope' may be my favorite of the chapters.
I first saw Williams's art in the horror genre. A Letter to Jo is certainly not horror, though there are some horrific moments. Alas, it's insane how vast of a handling Williams has on genres. I adore his more grotesque, inhuman, monstrous work, yet the top-notch, fantastic quality he brings here is fantastic. The characters look damn near perfect to their real-life counterparts, and the emotions he portrays are phenomenal.
Williams's art isn't just fantastic in the human department, but in the visual aspects of war as well. He is able to portray a chaotic battlefield that at times is nearly impossible to see what is happening because of the bullets and nastiness of the field, essentially mirroring how the combatants felt. During one of the double-page splashes, you feel the full effect of terror they feel. Some of these include sound effects that look magnificent, but some pages keep them out and the silence does the page wonders.
When a character loses consciousness, a fading page is usually added in with the panels progressively getting blurrier and harder to see. A Letter to Jo includes one of these and it's one of the better ones I've seen.
Williams works with watercolors quite often, which I am a fan of. It seems to be a hard coloring method, yet it produces beautiful work. That can be said about his colors in A Letter to Jo. His use of watercolors works perfectly during both the calmer moments and the battle scenes. I honestly couldn't see the story being colored any other way, now. The colors he employs absolutely does each page justice.
Esposito's lettering for the narration that's based on the letter looks pretty damn good and more of a cleaned-up version of the letter itself. The letter seems to be cursive, yet Esposito makes it a more stylized writing style (sometimes bordering cursive), that respects the letter while breathing new ink into it.
Esposito's work throughout is breathtaking, clean, and gorgeous. When we get sound effects for bullets or explosions they hit hard, as if you were there on the battlefield.
This type of story usually isn't my jam. Alas, I was glued to every moment of A Letter to Jo. Not only is it a heartwarming tale that had me rooting for them, it was one that keeps your attention and makes you never want to put it down. I'm always willing to try new genres and I'm damn well glad I checked it out!
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
A Letter to Jo is not for everyone. This is due to scenes of war, death, gore, blood, and violence. Yet, if those don't bother you, go buy it!
As amazing as the cover is, letterer, Esposito's name could've easily been added. Especially since the other two creators are listed and there are only three.
I know A Letter to Jo is more focused on Leonard's letter, yet a few more moments of Jo would've been great.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
There is so much to love about A Letter to Jo. From the outside, it seems like just another military story, yet it isn't. Fundamentally it's a love story that happens to be in the form of a letter a soldier sent to his waiting wife. The story feels so human and draws you in within a matter of pages.
For Sieracki's first graphic novel, he and the team absolutely did a phenomenal job. Hopefully, the team does more in this vein, or other projects together.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker
The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
Last Day in Vietnam: A Memory by Will Eisner
If you like the art:
The Dark: Collection One by Kelly Williams, Matt Harvey, Jim Gibbons, Chas! Pangburn
Road of Bones, Issue #1 by Rich Douek and Alex Cormack
Dept. H., VOL. 1 by Matt Kindt
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Joseph Sieracki – Writer
New Face: A Letter to Jo is his first graphic novel
Rumor: Via Kelly Williams' Twitter it looks like the team from A Letter to Jo are pitching a new comic to publishers
Kelly Williams – Illustrator
Multitalented: Has written and drawn comics, while hand-lettering some
Has a vast range of art/coloring skills
Uses watercolor for a lot of his work – who doesn't love watercolor?
Taylor Esposito – Letterer
Owns and runs Ghost Glyph Studios, which handles comic book lettering, production/pre-press & general design
Multitalented: He is also a second-degree black belt in Koei-Kan Karate-Do
Was part of the Marvel Bullpen for five years
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