Cope & Guibert

The latest addition to my collection of graphic novels, a gift from Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky: Alan’s War, which I couldn’t put down. The cover image:

(Note the Tintin-esque, and Alison Bechdel-esque, quiff.)

Lots of rave reviews, all deserved. Here are excerpts from one, by Peter Gutiérrez in 2008:

Alan’s War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope. [in English, translated by Kathryn Pulver, 2008] Although I’m generally leery of using the term “masterpiece”—what if it comes back to haunt you down the road?—this is one instance where I feel confident applying it. Alan Cope, as the plainly stated title implies, was simply an ordinary U.S. soldier who went to Europe in 1945 because he’d been drafted. Neither a war hero nor a clichéd “innocent abroad,” Cope is just sensitive enough, just observant enough, and just honest enough to be utterly captivating as a narrator.

Perhaps what’s most extraordinary about him, though, is his memory. Roughly fifty years after the incidents that inform Alan’s War, he described them in detail to French artist Emmanuel Guibert, and together their words and pictures are sublimely evocative: you hear the classical piano, feel the warmth of a friend’s smile, see the tall trees bending in dark Bavarian forests. That such experiences unfold against the largest conflict in the history of the Western World is, well, not exactly beside the point, but close: you get the feeling that the Cope-Guibert tandem would be a compelling guide regardless of the setting and circumstances.

… Ah, but then there’s the art. With a simplicity of line and a brilliant economy of storytelling, Guibert’s efforts recall Hergé—except Hergé, to my knowledge, never did such exquisite pen and brush work or achieved such transporting effects. Indeed, by the time you finish Alan’s War, you might very well be of the opinion that a gentle wash of grayscale is the most beautiful color in the rainbow.

Guibert’s wash drawings suggest old black-and-white photographs, and they fit remarkably well in combination with his more conventional cartooning style. Here’s a single panel with both styles (this on Alan’s 20th birthday):

Alan comes of age as he lurches through the Army and across Europe. Then, after returning to the U.S., he goes back to France to live.

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