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.