Monday, August 24, 2009

Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope by Emmanuel Guibert

French artist Emmanuel Guibert was 30 and Alan Cope was 69 when they met by chance and became friends. Guibert recorded Cope's tales of his life experience, of being drafted into the American army at age 18, serving in France and then continuing to work in France and Germany until his retirement. Cope made friends wherever he went and he maintained contact with many of them.

Cope was a dreamy, philosophical man. He returned to the States for a short time in order to attend university, but didn't finish his studies. "I realized that what I wanted was Europe. I didn't like America any more. Sure, I liked the country, the landscape, the people -- but I no longer liked the mentality. Even though there's a lot that's good about the American mentality, it somehow doesn't plumb the depths of existence. And that's why, in some ways, America is not doing well. Most Americans live on the surface of existence; I wanted to know its depths."

I found myself agreeing with Cope's comment about the largest living being on Earth, a giant sequoia named after General Sherman. "I don't doubt that he was a good general, but it's sort of too bad for the tree."

Cope died in 1999, the year before this biography was published in France. The English translation that I read was published in 2008. Guibert's black & white inkwash artwork is beautiful and easy to follow. It's quite different in style from his previous work in books like Sardines in Space and (with Joann Sfar) The Professor's Daughter.

It took me a long time to get around to reading this because the picture of a young soldier sitting on a tank on the cover made me think it would be too much about war for my taste. I was so wrong. It is far more existential than I expected. I loved it.

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