Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How the world was: a California childhood, Emmanuel Guibert

French cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert's art has a special something that elevates it a notch above most comic artists. In particular, he has a real knack for drawing people, and he gets all the expressions, positions and proportions pitch-perfect right.

In 1994, Guibert befriended an American veteran named Alan Cope and began creating his new friend's graphic biography. "Alan's War" was the surprising and moving result: the story of Cope's experiences as an American GI in France during World War II. "How the World Was" is Emmanuel Guibert's return to documenting the life of his friend. Cope died several years ago, as Guibert was just beginning work on this book, but Guibert has kept working to commit his friend's story to paper. Cope grew up in California during the great depression, and this graphic novel details the little moments that make a young man's life.

If this sounds boring, it's because it sure as heck is. That's where the problem with this graphic novel is - and the same reason why it's so hard to find really great graphic novels. It's so rare to find greatness in both the art and the writing (or content). Since Alan Cope, the real-life friend of Guibert, was an elderly guy who agreed to have his memories recorded by Guibert, the book reads exactly like that: an old guy telling you about his distant past. Unfortunately, he does not come across as an interesting guy at all. I'd say there are some curious bits, and a disturbing WTF/TMI passage about his mother and his penis, but the fact remains that Cope had an entirely ordinary California childhood, with no special event taking place during his formative years.

So don't feel bad if you'll find the book boring and might wonder what was interesting about this. Frankly, this is not a "story worth telling" per se. If Alan Cope had not been a friend of Guibert, his childhood would never have been become a published story.

My advice is, read this book if you want to enjoy Guibert's art, but not for the narration. The artwork is incredible: his style is so confident, essential and elegant that you should immerse yourself in his drawings without thinking of the narration.

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