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#22 [Aug. 22nd, 2010|12:34 pm]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#22 ALAN’S WAR – Emmanuel Guibert
(First Second)

“At 18 I only knew how to ride a bike. So the first motor vehicle I ever learned to drive was a tank.”

If the experience of being a soldier is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror like they say, Alan’s War is about those long periods of boredom. It’s the story of Alan Cope, a G.I. in World War II who was drafted and then bundled off to Europe at the tail end of his teens. His experience of the war wasn’t one of battles – he only fired a machine gun once and his Purple Heart was awarded for injuries sustained after falling out of a barn – but of exploration. This memoir often reads like a European driving holiday that just happens to be undertaken in a tank instead of a Volvo.

Years after the war, when the retired Cope was enjoying his twilight years in France, he crossed paths with cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert. The story the young cartoonist extracted from the old soldier is a fascinating one despite the relative lack of action, full of the little details that don’t always make it to the History Channel. His training seems almost as dangerous as the war, the new recruits routinely being fired on with live ammunition just to teach them to keep their heads down. Later he hears from a friend in another unit, who were among the first American soldiers in liberated Paris. His friend had a totally different experience of World War II, spending most of it enjoying the company of grateful French girls.

So Alan’s War is as individual an account of World War II as the name suggests. It’s one man’s memories collected together with no grand scheme underlying them. What makes it an invaluable story is the way it follows his life long after the war is over and shows the atypical effects it had on him. Alan’s War is also a wonderful argument for listening to the unique personal histories of our elders as Guibert did, even if they can’t be boiled down into a message or a moral, while we still have the chance.