Friday, October 10, 2008

Review: Alan's War

Emmanuel Guibert's graphic novel Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope (First Second Books, 336 b&w pages, $24), is not quite a biography and not quite a memoir, but more a visual translation of the stories told to Guibert by his friend, Alan Cope. The book recounts episodes from Cope's life in the United States army during World War II and his time in America and Europe in the years following the war. This is not an action-packed blockbuster, but instead a deeply personal reminiscence by a thoughtful and charming man.

The book is broken into three parts. Part one follows Cope through his training, his work as a radio operator student and then instructor, and his trans-Atlantic voyage and arrival in France. The second part details Cope's "war adventure," racing with little rest and ammunition in an armored car across France, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. The final part finishes up the story of Cope's time in the army and depicts Cope's post-war life in America and his eventual permanent return to Europe.

Cope is a wonderful narrator; one can see why Guibert spent years listening to his stories. His memory of the events of his life is incredible, and he has the ability to make even the most mundane details seem interesting. That is not to say that his life is dull, however.

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Cope's storytelling ability really makes this book soar. Some of the most engaging parts of the book show Cope's interactions with his friends, as Cope's love for them shines through in his narration. Here, he describes his first meeting with his best friend:

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Cope strikes up many friendships over the course of the book, and although these parts of the book are very enjoyable, they are also set up as a solution to one of the problems that faces biographical non-fiction, which is that rarely does a person's life fit into a typical narrative structure. Here, Cope's friendships help to tie together the various episodes of his life and are a focus of Cope's late-in-life moment of self-realization, which could be seen as the climax of the book. The book does not completely overcome the problem, however, and seems to wander somewhat in the final third of the story. I did find myself wondering at several points why certain scenes were included. But I still enjoyed reading those episodes, as Cope's tales are always interesting.

Guibert's distinctive black and white ink washes expertly convey Cope's story. The art somehow seems simplified and yet detailed at the same time, almost like Guibert took actual photos of Cope's life and then turned up the abstraction dial just enough.

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The page below takes place during Cope's sea voyage from the United States to France:

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I found this almost magical; although the drawing is black and white, when paired with Cope's description of the scene, somehow the colors appear. The best parts of the book are like this page: a perfect union of words and pictures that breathe color into Alan Cope's fascinating memories.

You can read an excerpt of Alan's War here and order the book here. It goes on sale on October 28, 2008.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.


  1. Thems some purty pictures.

    Request- How about a review of a sweet ass old Green Lantern comic?

  2. Alas, my earliest comic purchases -- old Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Green Hornet comics -- are somewhere in my mother's house, and may be gone for good. (I had a strange interest in "green" characters.)

  3. um. Sandy. Everything in your room was green. remember?