Alan's War: extraordinary graphic novel memoir of a US GI who arrived in Europe at the end of WWII and stayed

Emmanuel Guibert's graphic novel Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope is totally different from anything I've ever read. It's a picaresque memoir of a Californian soldier who was shipped to Europe during the last days of WWII, just in time to see the comic, banal, and wrenching scenes associated with the wind-down of hostilities. His is a soldier's story different from the ones we're accustomed to -- he and his comrades are sent to Prague at the cessation of hostilities to see if they can keep the Russians from claiming it in the post-war scramble. Afterwards, he wanders Europe as a chaplain's assistant, then as a civilian clerk for the military. He goes back to California, almost marries, breaks it off, goes back to Europe and bums around more there, meeting distressed artists, good and bad people, villains and everyday folks.

Cope dictated his memoirs to Guibert, an award-winning graphic novelist, after a chance meeting between the two in France. The two struck up a friendship and Guibert's affection for Cope shines through every panel. This is a kind of complimentary opposite to Maus: a story about a man whom war transformed into something better: tolerant, cosmopolitan, observant, and humane.

I discovered Alan's War through a recommendation from the inestimable Dave at Los Angeles's Secret Headquarters, my favorite comic shop in the world, during a visit there last spring. He'd read an advance review copy and couldn't say enough good things about this book. He was absolutely right (he's yet to give me a bum steer -- that table of recommended works running down the middle of the store is like a best-of-the-best in graphic novels).

This is just the first of several planned volumes in Alan's War. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series. Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope


  1. If you like this you might also check out Bill Mauldin’s “Up Front”. Not a comic per se, but he was a cartoonist for Stars and Stripes through many different campaigns in the European theater. Just throwing out another recommendation in this vein for people who like comics and true life insight into the “Last Good War”.

  2. This reminds me how different our present Middle East endeavors are from other conflicts. Maybe the rule should be: we’re only allowed to go to war if we can all shake hands and bum around in the region after. This looks very interesting.

  3. Thanks for the tip. I am late in warming to ”graphic novels,” but have read/viewed some very good ones of late. This should be interesting because I was in postwar Germany at roughly the same time as Cope.

    The masterpiece of the genre is Thomas Berger’s Crazy In Berlin. It is also a stylistic masterpiece, worthy of being designated Literature with a capital ”L.” In fact, IMHO it’s the very best WWII novel by an American, despite its taking place in the immediate weeks after VE Day.

  4. I came upon Maus by accident one day. What an intro to the world of graphic novels. This one you’re recommending excites me. I can’t wait to get a copy.

  5. I liked the way Pynchon described the occupied “zone” in Gravity’s Rainbow. My great uncle was US Army and assigned as a mayor of a small German town in the US zone right after the war. His experience was nothing like as anarchic, but he’s got some great slides of the period.

  6. Nice to see Alan’s War on Boing Boing. I’ve known this for a few years because it’s published here by a very good indie french publisher named l’Association. If you like this kind of graphic novels, i would also recommend Epileptic (published by Fantagraphics in the US i guess) and Persepolis (Pantheon).

  7. Sorry, I clumsily implied that Crazy In Berlin is a graphic novel; it is not. It’s just a plain old work-of-genius novel in the post-WWII occupation genre.

  8. Sounds remniscent of Lars von Trier’s Zentropa, in which a young American (of German descent) looks up his family and gets a job in (immediate) post-war Germany. The Byzantine politics of the fractured society bewilder our hero, who is exploited in every possible way until he at last loses it, grabs a machine gun and demands explanations from everyone.

    I saw the movie just after spending a year studying in Austria, and I yelped for joy at the end.

  9. The picture on the cover alone is worth the purchase, I think.

    I’m glad to see a post-war examination of Europe out there. That’s a fascinating time for political theorist, if not for arm chair military buffs.

  10. I’m a HUGE fan of Guibert and this book looks amazing! Did you see the video of the way he created the art for the book? He literally DRAWS WITH WATER then puts a single drop of ink to let it bleed across the page. Saw this on the :01 blog yesterday and my jaw is STILL on the floor.

    I can’t believe he did the entire book that way!

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