Reviews: A Sailor’s Story

Published On July 31, 2015 | By James Bacon | Comics, Reviews

A Sailor’s Story,
Sam Glanzman,
Dover Publications

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A Sailor’s Story is an exceptional War Comic, it’s creator Sam Glanzman is the protagonist of the story, and indeed, gives a brutally honest history of his time serving on the destroyer USS Stevens, while dutifully educating the reader about how that time at war actually was.

Glanzman vividly takes the reader on board the USS Stevens as we follow him, a seaman off to fight against the Japanese in the Second World War in the Pacific theatre, and the first book illustrates the monotony and hard work that was required when manning a warship, explaining as he goes, terminology, the habitat and rituals and the technology, using numbered schematics and diagrams to help the reader and more importantly, place the reader in the sometimes claustrophobic and undoubtedly close-contact environment of a ship at war.

The key here is that this is Glanzman’s, own personal story, his own recollections and memories, offered to the reader, and as such it is more poignant and indeed important than an objective history. Here is the world this man saw, and the fight and battle as this man saw it. The language is incredible, his description in the second book Winds, Dreams and Dragons, the starting point of explaining Kamikazes to the readers is strong and precise, giving the observer the horrible reality of a suicide pilot deliberately smashing their explosive-laden plane into a ship.

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Most when they hit, exploded, others on hitting, failing to explode, piled up like so much trash…taking on many grotesque shapes. A phoenix squatted in a nest of it’s own fire-blackened wreckage. Amputated tails and wings… ruptured gas tanks… crimson sheets of fire raging through superstructures…. blood flame and iron fused together...”

Accompanying these intense words, seven very detailed panels, presenting for the reader in a level of accuracy that is unusual in comics, the horror that was witnessed, the bodies and effect on humans that war entails. This is what makes Glanzman’s work so strong, his artwork is of such a high calibre, he is a draughtsman when it comes to ships and planes, their movement and impact so brilliantly drawn, and yet then showing the reader the horror of battle at sea.

I personally love the details that Glanzman goes into, he draws out vehicles and vessels in relief, presenting and explaining them or demonstrating a change and easily enlightening the reader in a subtle and engaging way. He describes matters with maps, going through different views, zooming in so the reader goes from a global picture, to the tactical movement of a beach landing, mixed of course with the action on the beach that is going on while he himself is on-board a ship supporting the landing.

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The story is a first hand account of the losses of the US Navy in the Pacific theatre of war, and it is hard reading at times, whether it be the suicides of civilians in Saipan or the loss of ships and men to Neptune in a typhoon, yet it is compelling reading and a real human insight into the personal side of a global conflict.

This edition from Dover is a wonderful republication. To complement this amazing story there are new pieces by Max Brooks, Larry Hanna and Chuck Dixon. There is a selection of tributes from a variety of key industry personalities from Joe Kubert to Joe R. Lansdale. A real beaut is the addition of the unpublished ten page black and white comic story ‘Even dead birds have Wings’ from Glanzman. To top it all, there are a number of pages, forming Glanzman’s own photographic scrap book, and in all it creates a wonderful package, that just like the comic itself adds further insight to the inquisitive or those that are interested.

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I really enjoyed this comic, its is powerful, yet delicate in how it deals with matters of life and loss, it is vivid yet is not unnecessarily visceral, and it is an honest and genuine recounting in comic book form of peace of history that takes the reader on a journey with the creator, a regular able seaman. It is fabulously illustrated, portraying layouts as easily as action stations and is a fascinating read.

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About The Author

James Bacon
James Bacon is a train Driver working in London but originally from Dublin. He also loves comics, theatre, history and books, runs conventions, writes about these activities and has edited a Hugo-winning Fanzine.

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