During Wayne Vansant’s prolific career writing and illustrating graphic histories, he has covered the Civil War, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, but never World War I. Now with The Red Baron: The Graphic History of Richthofen’s Flying Circus and the Air War in WWI, he has. In his most recent graphic history, Vansant has brought the same high quality blend of artwork and history that he did in another work recently reviewed by Defense Media Network.
The Red Baron is arguably the most famous fighter pilot in history. Memorialized in popular culture as Snoopy’s nemesis in the Peanuts comic strip, he has been the subject of countless books, articles, movies, and even pop songs (again, with Snoopy). This graphic novel is much more than a book about Rittmeister Baron Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, though. Richthofen, who died at 25 as the leading ace of World War I with 80 aerial victories, could more than fill his own book. But while The Red Baron: The Graphic History of Richthofen’s Flying Circus and the Air War in WWI tells the story of Richthofen in some detail, it also uses the story of this one man and his Jagdstaffel (Jasta) 11 and later Jagdgeschwader 1 to tell the broader story of the World War I air war on the Western Front.
All the major characters on the German side are included here, from the pioneers and teachers like Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelmann to supremely skilled pilots like Werner Voss, and ill-fated characters like Hermann Goering and Ernst Udet, who would play their unfortunate parts in the next war.
While not by any means the focus of the graphic history, British and American pilots are covered in passing as well, with Billy Bishop, Raymond Collishaw, Albert Ball, Roy Brown, Eddie Rickenbacker, Raoul Lufbery, Frank Luke and others given a panel or two, or even a page. Coming off worst are the French, with a single page for the French Air Service and aces Rene Fonck, Charles Nungesser, and Georges Guynemer. Included as well is a capsule history of the Lafayette Escadrille, and a section illustrating the main types of aircraft flown by the major combatants.
This beautifully illustrated book would be a fine introduction on World War I aviation to the young reader, or an interesting and attractive addition to a more extensive library covering the subject in more breadth and detail.