Notes for a War Story


First Second

"The war arrived in our village on the 18th of January. Obviously there were other wars going on, but they didn't have anything to do with us. There were wars for blacks. Wars for Arabs. Wars for Slavs. Our war started on the 18th of January, and in a few days, everything had changed."

So recounts Giuliano, a loner among outsiders, one of three young drifters caught up in the whirlwind of a war in the Balkans. The three boys are like passing shadows; they live in abandoned houses, dodge the occasional bomb, and steal car parts for money. Meeting Felix--a powerful, fast-talking mercenary--changes everything for them. Felix is an expert manipulator; he speaks to their ambition and to their desires for power, wealth, and purpose. They're instantly hooked, especially the trio's unofficial leader, Stefano, and they soon escalate from petty crime to working on behalf of a mafia-style militia, bullying  and extorting money in Felix's name. But as Giuliano comes to realize, they don't know what they're fighting for--if they're even fighting for anything. 
Notes for a War Story is an astonishing look at life in a lawless, war-torn nation, heightened by the harsh, moving, pencil and watercolor artwork of Italy's best graphic novel author.


Praise for Notes for a War Story

Notes for a War Story was one of the featured books in the Kirkus Graphic Novel Spotlight.

"Notes for a War Story is Gipi’s hard, human meditation on war and a society on the fringes of anomie, as witnessed by 17-year-old Giuliano. . . . With duotone panels thronging each page, and spidery line work ripe with menace, Giuliano tells of a life bereft of elementals — food, shelter and clean water, let alone family — where gangsters squat at the apex of the food chain. Ever so subtly, Gipi slips readers into the shoes of Giuliano and his two companions as they drift into the bad life. "During the war in Bosnia, during the siege of Sarajevo, during the dead in Sniper Alley," says the author, "I was in Italy, very few kilometers away as the crow flies. I was living my life without incident, without any sudden upset. Men and boys were dying in Bosnia, but they weren’t my brothers or countrymen. Why weren’t they? Because some bureaucrats had drawn a line on a map to divide the two countries. In the book, I erased that line. With that simple gesture, the war arrived in my home, in my country. I erased that line and let a nearby war take a step closer and become mine. Mine, and the three boys in this story, who have to learn how to grow up in wartime." —Kirkus

Review in August 2007 issue of VOYA

4Q 5P

In a nameless, wartorn, European country, three young men fall under the spell of Felix, a charismatic opportunist. Stefano, known as Little Killer, enthusiastically embraces Felix's lifestyle. Christian, an orphan, is just grateful to have a place to belong. Only Giuliano, an outsider by virtue of his more stable family, sometimes questions what they are doing. At Felix's behest, they engage in petty crime and profiteering, gradually escalating to violence. When Felix orders the three to head to the actual war zone, Giuliano realizes they have no idea why they will be fighting and slips away to return home. Trying to find his feet in a "normal" life, he still feels ambivalent about his decision to abandon his friends.

In this powerful graphic novel, award-winning Italian artist Gipi uses deceptively crude black-and-white panels to portray a world sliding into chaos. Young men — for women appear only as background — are left adrift as society unravels. Giuliano's recurring dreams of headless men is a powerful metaphor for both the failure of those around him to think for themselves and for their lack of inner resources. The final section of the book, in which a documentary filmmaker interviews Giuliano, seems frustratingly inconclusive, until the reader realizes that all parties involved are trying to piece together an understanding of what happened, that all anyone has are "notes for a war story." Far from the fantasy world of many graphic novels, this volume will surprise and challenge readers. —Kathleen Beck

Review July 7th 2007 issue of Booklist

Revisiting themes from his first American release, Garage Band, Italian writer and artist Gipi tells a much darker story of disassociated youth and the bonds of friendship. Giuliano, Christian, and Little Killer wander aimlessly about an unidentified Balkan country, avoiding the militia and the shelling that an ubiquitous war has brought to their homeland. When they get into the good graces of Felix, a charming dangerous war profiteer, they become embroiled in his crime operations and sent to the big city, where their friendship and mettle are put to the test. As grim as could be, from the bleak narration to the intentionally gruesome, black-and-white art, WAR STORY never loses track of the fact that these are children, swept up in a situation too difficult for most adults to grasp. Their youth — evidenced by their covetous enthusiasm for motorcycles and video games — exacerbates the class jealousies, which flair up repeatedly, and the braggadocio with which two of the trio head toward their disturbing and inevitable end.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July 2007

Young adults who followed the comparatively tame aspirations of the quartet in Gipi’s Garage Band  will find themselves in a drastically different milieu here in this imported graphic novel.  Three teenage boys roam the bombed-out villages of their nameless southern European nation in a nameless war, drawn together by convenience rather than friendship.  In dire need of shelter and cash, they offer their services to crime boss Felix, and self-styled “Little Killer” Stefano shows real enthusiasm for the job, running contraband and then working his way up to collecting “debts” in Felix’s extortion operation.  Stefano takes over as the trio’s de facto leader, reveling in his newfound power, while orphan Christian glories in camaraderie and wealth, and narrator Giuliano admits to embracing the thrills.  Ultimately Felix has a grander plan for the boys, sending them off to fight with a militia; armed with assault weapons but no sense of mission.  Giuliano comes to his senses and bails out. The conclusion finds him several years later, being interviewed by a movie crew (“It’s not a film, it’s a documentary.  They’re two different things”) about his experiences in the recently past war; the former wartime exploiter is not being exploited by an arty type of profiteer.  As the cameramen rush off to capture footage of fighters returning under protection of an amnesty agreement, Giuliano sees in the coat-shrouded figures the embodiment of his old nightmares, in which his headless comrades (no conscience? no plan? no identity?) upbraid him for being a soft, coddled boy with a family to which he can retreat whenever he chooses.  The desolate villages and corrupt city are rendered in extraordinary details and washed with an appropriately dearly, monotonous military green.  The boys, whose solid bodies are crowned by faces dashed off in a few wiry lines, bear striking similarity to the Garage Band guys, and it’s clear that with just one cruel political flick of the wrist, those ordinary joes could share the same fate.  Teens who have moved to horror and compassion by Beah’s A Long Way Gone will find this work challenging and provocative. 

Review in 7/1 School Library Journal

Gr 11 Up–On January 18th, in an unnamed Balkan country, war breaks out. Caught up in adolescence, Giuliano and his friends invent new measures of manhood. Can’t walk calmly under threat of sniper fire? Points off. While trying to sell stolen goods, the budding criminals meet up with Felix. The epitome of “man,” he is served well by the war. He exposes the teens to the lure of money, guns, and violence. Raised in a middle-class family, Giuliano struggles to fit in with his friends. Yet, he can’t escape the nagging thought that it’s not his war–neither the physical fighting nor the one that his friends are launching against their lower-class lives. As Little Killer and Christian race toward their fate, the protagonist must decide who he is. Like Stassen’s powerful Deogratias, a Tale of Rwanda (Roaring Brook, 2006), Gipi reveals the susceptible nature of teenagers during wartime. The oil drawings are tinged in gray, giving a sense of hopelessness as, years later, Giuliano doubts his decision. The all-male cast has sharp teeth and squinty eyes that reflect their rabid world. Teens won’t rush toward this title but they should. It’s both a warning and an inevitable story about a boy becoming a man under the most extreme conditions. Once they see themselves in Giuliano, they won’t likely forget his memories.–Sadie Mattox, DeKalb County Public Library, Decatur, GA

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Gipi

  • Gipi's pencil and watercolor art is forceful, realistic, and evocative, the ideal medium for depicting the rough and raw subject matter of this graphic novel.  NOTES FOR A WAR STORY won the 'Best Book' prize at Angouleme, the international comics festival.  First Second published his GARAGE BAND in Spring 07.
  •  Gipi


Available Formats and Book Details

Notes for a War Story


American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults, YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens, NYPL Books for the Teen Age
  • Trade Paperback



First Second