Review: How The World Was – A California Childhood

How The World Was is an interesting graphic novel. It’s from illustrator Emmanuel Guibert, but it’s about his friend Alan Cope. The graphic novel was originally published in French, but it’s about Cope’s life growing up in California during the Depression Era. It is also in some ways a follow-up to Alan’s War which was also illustrated by Guibert and based off of the life of Cope. I didn’t know any of that going in and while it’s not required of you to know, it is interesting when you think of the circular journey in which the events have occurred. For me, the subject of California before it became what it is today is very interesting. I was raised on stories about my Great Grandparents and Grandparents lives as ranchers in northern California in which visiting it today bares no resemblance to the tales. Driving down roads named after family imagining that it blossomed from a road created as a necessity that then turned into a normal city street is kind of crazy. With that said you can probably see why I was interested in How The World Was as it deals with the subject of California before it became what it is today.

The opening sets the stage and says it all as Cope’s words paint a picture of what California and in particular southern California, looked like before the war. After the war the population doubled, but before that it was rustic and beautiful. The contrast is strange to say the least.

Cope walks us through everything he can remember about his childhood and if you like history then you’ll cling to his every word. From the first time he learned what Kleenex was to stories about his family and their constant relocating. I will say that constantly moving seems to have always been a part of California.

How The World WasComplimenting Cope’s words is Guibert’s photo realistic illustrations. And I do mean complimenting. There are times when the image is very simple, but every image is masterfully detailed. At one point you can tell that Guibert drew a photo and I don’t mean traced, but actually recreated the family photo. It’s incredible looking, but what’s more incredible is that the style he recreates it takes off the finer details of the photo so that you’re not seeing distinguishing features. He respects the family’s privacy that way. It also gives it a penciled oil painting look which was incredible to me.

His landscapes are amazing and pop up as Cope’s family journeys to the beach and other locales. For as detailed as the art is, it’s what Guilbert chooses not to illustrate that’s impressive. He could easily clutter the page, but his use of white space is perfect and plays to the emotional level of what’s happening in Cope’s tale.

Biographical graphic novels are one of the hardest things to get right. You don’t want to bore the reader and to really grab them you need personal details. This book is deeply intimate and reminded me of the work that Jeffrey Brown does. It takes a brave person to open up about every aspect of their life and it takes someone of integrity and skill to present it the way that Guibert has. It may not be for every comic reader, but it also has the biggest chance of reaching non-comic readers with its subject matter or at the very least its amazing art.

Score: 5/5

Creator: Emmanuel Guibert Publisher: First Second Books Price: $19.99 Release Date: 7/15/14 Format: OGN; Print