The Graphic Version of an Epic Book

 

James Hornfischer exploded on the naval history scene in 2005 with his book “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.” It was an account of the Battle off Samar when a collection of destroyers, destroyer escorts, and escort carriers fought Japan’s main surface battle force to a standstill. Over the next dozen years he wrote four more books, three focused on the Pacific War. All were excellent. In 2021 he died.

“The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: A Graphic Adaptation,” by James Hornfischer, Doug Murray, and Steven Sanders is a graphic novel adaptation of Hornfischer’s original book. Murray translated the book, doing the storyboarding and text while Sanders did the artwork. It is one of a series of graphic novels being published by Dead Reckoning, Naval Institute Press’s graphic imprint.

The book is a faithful adaptation of Hornfischer’s book. It follows the overall path of the original. The adaptor and artist capture the climactic battle between the “tin cans” (destroyers and destroyer escorts) and Japan’s powerful battleships and heavy cruisers. They show the desperate attacks made by the escort group to protect the carriers they are assigned to defend. They convey the confusion felt by both sides.

It suffers the inevitable simplifications that result from translating a text work into a visual form. Imagine a movie version of a great and sprawling story for a sense of what this means.  Often really enjoyable parts of the book get omitted in a visual retelling. So it is with this.

Judged on its own merits it is an above-average graphic work. It is not on the order of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” (which jump-started the current graphic novel rage), but it is a cut above “Classics Illustrated.” The problem is it does not approach the brilliance of Hornfischer’s original work. The 2005 book overshines the 2021 graphic adaptation.

That is a shame. View as an independent work the graphic adaptation is an entertaining, informative, and sometimes inspired re-telling of the Battle of Samar. Murray and Sanders take a complex story and put it in a graphic format without losing significant details.

Those who enjoy graphic novels will enjoy this book. It is also a great book to give to a younger reader as an introduction to the 1941-45 Pacific War and the Battle of Leyte. It is fast-paced and engaging. It is a worthy tribute to James Hornfischer.

“The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: A Graphic Adaptation,” by James Hornfischer, Doug Murray, and Steven Sanders,  Dead Reckoning, 2021, 208 pages, $29.95 (Hardcover)

This review was written by Mark Lardas who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is marklardas.com.

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  1. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    I read the book last year, it was excellent. Also read his The Fleet at Flood Tide several years ago.

    “Classics Illustrated” really takes me back 60 years or so. The series was a fine introduction for kids to great books.

    • #1
  2. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    Fantastic book-he got much of the material for Neptune’s Inferno- another great book-while writing Last Stand…many men fought in both. As above, his Fleet at Flood Tide is also very good.

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Seawriter:

    They convey the confusion felt by both sides.

     

    If they successfully conveyed the confusion of Admiral Kurita, that would be Herculean. Kurita’s formation had been scattered by the escorts, and Kurita apparently believed at least initially that he was being drawn into an ambush. So he pulled his fleet back to regroup. 

    One of the men on an escort was overheard to say as he saw the Japanese turning: “They’re getting away!”

    • #3
  4. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    Percival (View Comment):

    Seawriter:

    They convey the confusion felt by both sides.

     

    If they successfully conveyed the confusion of Admiral Kurita, that would be Herculean. Kurita’s formation had been scattered by the escorts, and Kurita apparently believed at least initially that he was being drawn into an ambush. So he pulled his fleet back to regroup.

    One of the men on an escort was overheard to say as he saw the Japanese turning: “They’re getting away!”

    the best line was from the commander of the guns on the jeep carrier (I believe the St Louis) when the enemy cruisers were baring down on her (and she was firing her lone 5″ cannon)- “we are suckering them in so we can use the 40mm guns on them”. 

    The little “jeep” carriers had no armor and could not out run an enemy warship- furthermore they didn’t carry anti-ship weapons for their planes b/c they were there to support the amphibious landing. The escorting destroyers and destroyer escorts sacrificed themselves to gain time for the little carriers to run. It is  a crime that no USN warship is named after Captain Ernest Evans or after Capt Copeland-absolute naval heroes-yet we have ships named Gabby Giffords & Harvey Milk and after 3rd rate political hacks.

    • #4
  5. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    Thanks, I know what to send my son for his birthday. I sent him the Fleet at Flood Tide during his last deployment to the western Pacific, South China, and Philippine Seas. He said it filled in a lot of history of the waters and islands they cruised.

    • #5
  6. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    MiMac (View Comment):
    It is  a crime that no USN warship is named after Captain Ernest Evans or after Capt Copeland-absolute naval heroes-yet we have ships named Gabby Giffords & Harvey Milk and after 3rd rate political hacks.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Evans_(DE-1023)

     

    • #6
  7. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    MiMac (View Comment):
    It is  a crime that no USN warship is named after Captain Ernest Evans or after Capt Copeland-absolute naval heroes-yet we have ships named Gabby Giffords & Harvey Milk and after 3rd rate political hacks.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Evans_(DE-1023)

     

    But maybe you meant currently no ship of that name?  Well, if he were black and had a Navy Cross instead of the Medal of Honor and a girl’s name, he could have a carrier named after him.

    • #7
  8. Hinch Member
    Hinch
    @Hinch

    The Battle off Samar is my number one historical event that should have had a movie made about it.   I’ll never understand why it still hasn’t.  But I read the excellent book several years ago, and now I’ve ordered the graphic novel.

    Edit:  A word of warning if ordering from Amazon – it looks like they’ve mixed the graphic novel into the 2005 book’s page.  Just double-check what you’re ordering.

    • #8
  9. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    Skyler (View Comment):

    MiMac (View Comment):
    It is a crime that no USN warship is named after Captain Ernest Evans or after Capt Copeland-absolute naval heroes-yet we have ships named Gabby Giffords & Harvey Milk and after 3rd rate political hacks.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Evans_(DE-1023)

     

    No current ship is named for Cpt Evans- that is a crime 

    BTW- he is a Native American but lost in the intersectionality ship naming Olympics to a gay guy with an “other than honorable discharge” mainly b/c he didn’t die a victim-but as a war hero.

    • #9
  10. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Hinch (View Comment):

    The Battle off Samar is my number one historical event that should have had a movie made about it. I’ll never understand why it still hasn’t. But I read the excellent book several years ago, and now I’ve ordered the graphic novel.

    Edit: A word of warning if ordering from Amazon – it looks like they’ve mixed the graphic novel into the 2005 book’s page. Just double-check what you’re ordering.

    I think until recently, it’s been pretty hard to make a convincing movie with all those ships and their destruction.  I think Tom Hanks’ recent movie “Greyhound” (I think that was the name) shows how it could be done.  That was an amazing movie.  

    • #10
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