Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

An Artist, Who Escapes

Friday, May 18th, 2012

The Holocaust is a subject that’s been covered in comics before, most notably in Art Spiegelman’s Maus, but Lily Renée, Escape Artist is a graphic novel takes a lighter approach, mostly due to the fact that its subject was lucky enough to never be in a concentration camp, though she did suffer her own trials and travails as a result of being Jewish during the time of the Nazi regime.

Lily Renée Wilheim was a teenager when the Nazis invaded Vienna, which meant she was old enough to recall the events clearly, but also young enough to be shipped out as part of Kindertransport, which means the bulk of the biography focuses on events that aren’t often talked about in the greater narrative of Jewish oppression and the Holocaust. We follow Lily’s struggles as a Jewish refugee in England, being classified as an “enemy alien,” and finally her immigrant experience in America, which leads her to her ultimate status as a pioneer in women’s comics.

The book focuses on smaller details and anecdotes in Lily’s journey, like eating too much food on a train or working as a mother’s helper. This makes it easier for younger readers to relate to Lily, but it also leaves the book feeling a bit shallow since it barely touches upon the larger war narrative going on. Lily herself may not have been too concerned with the bigger picture, as she was doing her best to survive, but the book is very much written toward an educational bent, so more historical context would have been helpful in imparting a history lesson to its readers. Most of the heavy-lifting is left to the appendix in the back, which explains some of the finer historical details. In this manner, it reminds me of the American Girl books, except that those novels are definitely intended to focus on their storytelling first and foremost, better to relate to their audience of 10-year-old girls (and sell more dolls). They aren’t sold as educational materials.

The copy on the front and back covers of Lily Renée, Escape Artist seems to be aimed toward promoting a strong female role model, except that the aspect of her they promote—her comics work—is barely touched upon in the book. She doesn’t reach that point until the last few pages of the last chapter, and it really feels like they’re name-checking the titles she worked on. I would have liked to see sample pages from her work, or maybe more audience reactions, or some further indications of how this work changed her life, beyond that it paid for her mother’s operation and that one of the characters “was a fantasy” for her. If her work in comics is being used as a hook to get people to read this book, it should have gotten a lot of more page time. While I enjoyed the book, it ultimately felt unsatisfying.

Lily Renée, Escape Artist
story by Trina Robbins
pencils by Anne Timmons
inks by Mo Oh
published by Graphic Universe (New York, 2011)
ISBN 978-0-7613-8114-3


Sweating More in ’44

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

During World War II lots of women were tasked with supporting the war effort and taking on work normally performed by men, who themselves were being shipped overseas to fight in said war. Which is why this 1944 ad for Lifebuoy Health Soap just raises so many questions.

(Click image for full size)

Why aren’t these women’s husbands serving in the military? Were they rated 4-F? Why would the excuse “I’m too tired” fly with a woman who builds bombers all day? Why is it okay to gossip about someone, but not okay to eavesdrop? Why isn’t Ruthie sitting next to her friends anyway? And if everyone’s “working and perspiring more than ever,” maybe someone should drop a note to Ruthie’s husband, because I doubt he smells like a “sweetheart.”

(via Boing Boing and Vintage Ads)

A Post-War Postcard

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Despite not being as long or as seminal as other epic works such as Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Alan’s War by Emmanuel Guibert is probably the longest I’ve ever taken in reading a graphic novel. It’s just so rich and dense, with so much information packed into every page and panel, that you can’t just breeze through it. Nor should you—this is the story of a man’s life, and what a life it was.

Alan’s War is the story of Alan Cope, a young man from California in the ’40s who like many young men his age back then, found himself drafted into the army and sent overseas to fight in World War II. “Fight” being a very loose term in his case, as he was drafted late into the war, and by the time he finally got sent to France, the war was mostly over. So he finds himself moving from place to place, performing mostly administrative and cleanup work, learning a lot about Europe (and life) in the process. He ended up living there after the war, which is how he met Emmanuel Guibert, the comic artist who took their conversations and transcribed them into this beautiful book. Guibert is not a speaking presence in this graphic novel; Guibert was the audience then as the reader is now.

Guibert chose to keep his dialog and pacing as true to Alan’s original delivery as possible. As such it is very comfortable, measured, and occasionally contradictory. Guibert notes these contradictions in the introduction, but they do not detract from the story one bit. I found it very easy to follow, even when Alan’s account gets sidetracked as he tries to sneak in smaller anecdotes and bits of information into the narrative, and even with all the people Alan met it was relatively easy to keep them straight, though I found myself at times flipping back to try and remember who he was talking about.

The book is actually a collection, as the novel was originally published in three volumes back in France. The first volume or chapter, covers Alan’s training and stateside experiences, while the second chapter is his travels through Europe. The final chapter is more of an epilogue, as Alan basically goes through a laundry list of what happened to him and all his friends: some moved away and he lost touch, some he was reunited with, and others died. As a resident of the 21st Century it’s fascinating to see how Alan was able to track down people without the Internet, using only letters and phone calls and coming up pretty successful most of the time. He even wrote to Henry Miller at one point and got an answer regarding the whereabouts of a couple of dear friends.

The narrative shines in this graphic novel, but the art is also beautiful to behold. Many panels may seem empty, but what few elements Guibert does put in them convey so much information. His facial expressions are charming, but the real standouts are his landscapes. Some are almost indistinguishable from photographs, the detail being so rich.

I really enjoyed this book; it was funny and charming, and provided a look at military life that was more humble and less violent than the portrayals we’re used to getting. Guibert is right in that Alan Cope was a natural storyteller, though he sells himself short: Guibert is excellent as well.

Alan’s War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope
by Emmanuel Guibert
translation by Kathryn Pulver
lettering by Céline Merrien
published by First Second (New York, 2008)
ISBN 978-1-59643-096-9