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The Red Baron — graphically shown

11 June 2014

The Red Baron — graphically shown

The Red Baron: the graphic history of Richthofen’s Flying Circus and the Air War in WWI, Wayne Vansant, 2014, ISBN 9780760346020, 100 pp.

The Red Baron: the graphic history of Richthofen's Flying Circus and the Air War in WWI by Wayne Vansant

The Red Baron: the graphic history of Richthofen’s Flying Circus and the Air War in WWI by Wayne Vansant

Wayne Vansant brings his history skills with the graphic arts to us with another enrapturing graphic novel, this one on the life of “The Red Baron” Baron Manfred von Richthofen. Should any doubt that graphic novels are not for good writers they need only read the opening page which is succinct, accurate and as emotive as a reader is fortunate to find.

Vansant does what the best of history writers do which is to bring the full human context to the events of, in this case, Richthofen’s life as well as those of World War I. His art allows these events to be vicariously experienced since he distills the essence of the events as well as the emotions of the people in those events. Able to capture visual angles dramatically, as well as in ways not possible for photographers, Vansant’s art illustrates what has not previously been shown. The six frames of Immelmann employing the maneuver named for him is an excellent example — as are the victim’s perspective whether the pilot of a broken airplane or of another pilot’s bullets.

Vansant has researched his subject well and his book is as complete with knowledge as it is with artistically expressed insight. Richthofen’s early life and military service are clear to understand as is his complete career as a pilot in the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (German Air Service). Unit assignments and their histories are there to study as well as various members of those units — many to become famous in later years.

Aviation in World War I was in its infancy but rapidly evolving with pilots rarely flying beyond their mid-twenties due to death or incapacitating wounds. Richthofen had at least two near death experiences, the first with a cracked upper wing of a Fokker D.III Albatros and the other after suffering a grazing head wound from which he never entirely recovered.

There is surprising information in Vansant’s book, as well. The reader learns of: Manfred’s relatives Lothar and Wolfram also flying as a fighter pilots, Manfred’s participation with the German delegation to the German-Russian Peace talks in Brest-Litovsk, why Manfred stopped having silver cups engraved for his air victories after his 60th though he had won 80.

There is much more to learn through Vansant’s writing and experience through his art. As an example is Fokker’s stanggensteurung — the synchronisation mechanism for firing a machine gun through a propeller arc — and how there were times it did not work and caused crashes by shattering propellers. This and the Fokker Eindecker made for what would later be the termed “Fokker Scourge” — a nine month advantage in initiative over Allied aircraft.

The achievements and, too often, early deaths of many aviators is told and shown well, including that of Baron von Richthofen who died in combat on 21 April 1918 — just shy of being 26. Though he landed in Allied territory, mumbling just a few words before expiring from his single bullet wound, he was given a military funeral with full honors. Such was his impact and why The Red Baron: the graphic history of Richthofen’s Flying Circus and the Air War in WWI should be read. The book’s 310 illustrations and three maps make this title particularly enjoyable as do the seven extra sections which round out the aviation history of World War I.

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As is the publishing business custom, Zenith Press and On-line Bookstore provided a copy of this book for an objective review.

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Other books reviewed from Wayne Vansant

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 11 June 2014 09:39

    I have seen similar graphic novels depicting the US Civil War and other historic periods. A great idea!

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