Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Graphic Lit: Alan's War

Those who sit down with “Alan’s War” expecting a conventional World War II memoir might come away disappointed.

Cope didn’t take part in any big, famous battles. He didn’t join the Army until late in the war and spent a good bit of his initial time in training. He got into few firefights and witnessed only one scene of brutal violence (which was a stupid accident).

Despite — or perhaps because of — Cope’s memoir, “Alan’s War,” transcribed and illustrated by French cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert, is one of the most fascinating accounts of life during wartime I’ve read in awhile.

Guibert (“Sardine in Outer Space,” “The Professor’s Daughter”) met the then-elderly Cope in 1994 and struck up a close friendship that resulted in this book.

Cope is a natural storyteller, relating in relaxed, easygoing detail the people and places he happened upon during the war and afterward, when he resettled in Europe. He exhibits a curiosity that is constantly rewarded by serendipity.

Guibert keeps his backgrounds as sparse as possible in the book, often putting his figures against all-white backgrounds with only the occasional building lining the background. When he does provide detail, the lush black and white watercolors provide a breathtaking contrast.

At times, what Cope doesn’t discuss is just as interesting as what he does. He details his formative friendships in the Army and Europe, but rarely talks about his family.

His wife and children in particular seem pushed aside. Perhaps their presence would have muddied the book’s focus, but their absence nevertheless seems a trifle odd.

What we’re left with in “Alan’s War” is the story of a man for whom war provided the opportunity to expand his horizons and visit the world beyond his backyard, in turn giving him the ability to make decisions in ways that would have never occurred to him had he stayed home.

Perhaps that’s not exactly “The Longest Day,” but it’s a compelling tale nonetheless.Copyright The Patriot-News, 2008

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