I've read several really good comics / graphic novels the past couple of weeks and I'd say that this has been a strong year for great works of sequential art. I think today I just read (well actually finished reading) my favorite / most excellent graphic novel of 2008 and that book is: Alan's War The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope by Emmanuel Guibert. Alan's War is the story of Alan Cope going into basic training, then into his experiences in World War II, and what he did after that war. After the war Alan Cope lived in France, where he related his story to cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert, and they had a friendship that lasted from 1994 until Cope died in 1999.
The best way I can think to describe Alan's War is that it is a quiet, reflective journal of one man's (Alan) experience during a very noisy war (but probably the one war that no one can argue shouldn't have happened). Alan didn't see any combat during World War II, even though he worked in a tank (and the way he talks about how working in a tank was before computers existed is very fascinating), so Alan's War isn't about the horrors of that war. Alan Cope led a very interesting life and would have been a great person to have known.
Alan Cope only lived in the U.S. briefly after WWII, he preferred Europe, and lived in Germany and France (he was also a quick learner so spoke both languages and even worked as a French translator for a brief period after the war). Of America, Cope said (from a passage in Alan's War): "I don't like America anymore. Sure, I liked the country, the landscape, the people - but I no longer liked the mentality. Even though there's a lot of good about the American mentality, it somehow doesn't plumb the depths of existence. And that's why, in some ways, America is not doing well. Most Americans live on the surface of existence; I wanted to know its depths."
I am thankful that Emmanuel Guibert isn't a cartoonist who feels like he needs to have an art style that is fanciful or over-rendered and has a writing style that is engaging without the need for forced drama. Alan's War is published by First Second (who also published the U.S. versions of the Guibert written Sardine In Outer Space series and The Professor's Daughter - which I haven't read, but now understand why those are so acclaimed and will be correcting my oversight). I just now read the end flap of Alan's War and was happy to read that this volume will be followed by Alan's Youth (a topic Guibert, in his introduction to Alan's War, said Guibert shared with him at length) and that First Second will be doing the English adaptation of The Photographer by Guibert, which is about "a Doctors Without Borders mission in 1980's Afganistan through the eyes of a great reporter, the late Didier Lefevre".
Go to the First Second website / blog www.firstsecondbooks.com and scroll down to the October 28th entry for a YouTube one minute video of how Guibert did the art for Alan's War - very interesting!
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