I blame you, Charley’s War, for setting me up for total disappoint for all other serialized war comics. A Sailor’s Story, though it has a similarly appealing, technically excellent cover, a comparable premise (life in wartime), and some very positive reviews, doesn’t even begin to measure up.

A Sailor’s Story is a reissue of a collection of comics by Sam Glanzman about his time in the U.S. Navy. Though I thought this collection was overall barely readable, I’ll start with the good. He’s an excellent illustrator, showing great technical prowess in depicting ships, equipment, and life above and below deck. Though some of his images are a bit dark, you really get the sense of what life at sea looked like, at times lackadaisical and at times truly terrifying.

Unfortunately, that illustrative prowess doesn’t extend to storytelling ability. Though the comics included in this anthology began as single issues, there is no real sense of an arc from tale to tale. Furthermore each story is haltingly told; even Glanzman’s interesting beginning—enlisting young and essentially orphaned—starts promisingly and then is dropped off as though forgotten. Hilarious, bumbling, and brutal shipmates are introduced, but given pretty much nothing to do. Battles are fought with no historical context for the uninitiated.

A Sailor’s Story seems like a love letter to a moment in Glanzman’s life, written for a specific audience of naval history buffs, and even more specifically, for those fascinated with WWII warships and their weapons. This seems further evidenced by the forward and endnotes, love letters to Glanzman from avid fans, including praise from cartoonists like Joe Kubert and Stan Lee. To those readers, it might have some real appeal. But unlike the comparably themed Charley’s War, which although fictional, manages to be a pretty solid catalog of the events in the trenches of World War I, A Sailor’s Story refuses to see beyond the end of its nose, or the bow of its ship, to tell a compelling and cohesive story to those not already completely in the know.

A Sailor’s Story
by Sam Glanzman
ISBN: 9780486798127
Dover Publications, 2015

  • Emilia Packard

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Emilia has been reading graphic novels rabidly since her best friend handed her Craig Thompson’s Blankets over winter break during her sophomore year of college. From that day, her fate was sealed — at Grinnell College, she created, edited and drew strips for a student comics magazine called The Sequence. As an MLS Student at the University of Illinois, she spent way too much time filling up her backpack (and her roommate’s backpack) with the treasures of the Undergrad Library’s comics collection — never less than 40 books at a time. Just in the past few years, she’s worked at libraries and archives in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Indiana, and Austin, Texas and consumed their graphic novels collections with great gusto. She has been drawing her stick-figure avatar, Flippy-Do, since she was about 10 years old.

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