In Honor of Those Who Served - by One Who Served: Sam Glanzman
A Sailor's Story by Sam Glanzman; Dover Publications, Inc., 2015
Widely regarded as the original autobiographical graphic novel, the first two sections of the book were printed by Marvel Comics (in separate volumes) in the 1980's. The third section, "Even Dead Birds Have Wings", was also scheduled to have been printed by Marvel, but now sees print for the first time. The two initial installments ("A Sailor's Story" and "A Sailor's Story: Winds, Dreams and Dragons") have been reprinted with color corrections which provide a wonderful watercolor-wash effect, alternating and contrasting brilliantly between warm and cool colors which urge the reader/viewer to vicariously partake of the story as they turn the page. The original hand lettering by the skilled Phil Felix was wisely retained by the editorial staff, emphasizing the workmanlike quality of the art. The "Even Dead Birds Have Wings" story, first slated to appear in the black and white magazine Savage Tales, features the artist himself in a contemporary setting, many years after the war, on a beach with his memories. These scenes are depicted in grey ink-wash, while the flashback sequences are drawn in a contrasting black and white line art style. Combined with single page art inserts by the likes of Joe Kubert and Russ Heath, this volume is a tour de force of magnificent cartoon illustration.
The first page of the first story provides the theme for all that follows: a young teenage boy, Sam Glanzman, playing fetch with his dog Beauty in the winter on a snowy farm in upstate New York, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This panel is followed and powerfully contrasted by a night scene featuring the USS Stevens approaching the viewer in dramatic perspective, an art at which Glanzman is a master. The ship is within the war zone, indicated by the inset map (of which there are several throughout the book) of Hawaii and the Japanese occupied islands in the vicinity. Our young artist is aboard.
All the emotions of both war and patriotism are depicted with story and art: from horror to pride, determination to boredom, and amusement to fear; the ability of Glanzman to pace his story and interweave slice of life episodes with the larger picture of global conflict are highlighted by myriad facial expressions and body postures. Numerous characters from his experiences are depicted for their edification and our amusement. The sense of humor runs constant throughout the book, always interrupted by the unexpected and grim episodes of war. This is a realistic tale that does not reveal itself as mere entertainment - the pain and sacrifice are all there, as are Chinese boatmen, rickshaw drivers and Polynesian refugees being rescued by the US Navy, all of which round out a huge story with intimate details, always returning to the main storyline - battle on the high seas.
Many of Glanzman's drawings from his WWII sketchbook have been made available by Steve Fears on the Sam Glanzman Fan Page on Facebook. They are remarkable for their looseness, although some tightly rendered examples are also presented, demonstrating a versatile and observant artist at the very beginning of his long career. A professional artist since 1939, and, although not strictly a humorist, it is satisfying to compare Glanzman to other great war cartoonists of the era such as Bill Mauldin and George Baker, particularly now that his work is being revived and his legacy assured. Dark Horse Books reprinted his Tarzan stories (from Charlton Comics) in 2013 and Dover Books will be reprinting his USS Stevens stories, originally from D.C. Comics and a few independent publishers, in 2016. For both A Sailor's Story and the upcoming USS STEVENS, comic historians and fans owe a debt of thanks to the hard working Drew Ford, Acquisitions Editor at Dover Publications. Mister Ford established the Facebook Fan Page for Mister Glanzman and has been instrumental in this important project, first publicly voicing his interest years ago as a letter writer to The Comics Buyer's Guide.