COMIC REVIEW: The Wright Brothers (Cinebook Reviews #9)

Delving deeper into the Different, I’m continuing my quest to uncover the gems of French and Belgian comics for all you good people out there, courtesy of British-based translators and publishers Cinebook.  This week I take a look at an historic volume – literally – the story of The Wright Brothers.

In addition to the trunk of excellent comic books Cinebook have already branched out with their Expresso Collection (see Cinebook Review #7).  The Cinebook Recounts collection (of which The Wright Brothers is the third) is a further example of just how widely varied the comics medium can be.

I quite enjoyed History as a child – well, the bloody bits, the bits that sounded like they came from storybooks or could inspire them.  Corn Laws left me cold, as did the smelting process of Abraham Darby (I-IV) though God knows I still remember them.  My attention has wandered far from the path since school days but I remember the lessons taught because Mr Evans sold them to us as stories, bringing them to life by encouraging us to think about what it must have felt like to be there.  Comics might just be the perfect way to do that.  Every child likes a comic, right?  They’d be practically teaching themselves…

In the case of The Wright Brothers the unfortunate answer is ‘no.’

It should be exciting.  All around the world inventors are competing to create true ‘heavier-than-air’ flight.  They know it is technically possible, their imaginations are fired by nature and by the nuggets of success that they see in each others work, there are rivalries, fortunes to be made – but…

Somehow on reading this book it feels as though it is a project cooked up by a fuddy duddy who thinks he can reach children through this medium but fundamentally doesn’t understand why they like it.  I don’t know who ordered the work but the people who created it are J.P. Lefevre-Garros (writer) and M. Uderzo (illustrator).  For an Asterix fan it’s rather exciting to see the name Uderzo on any book, but the artist here is Marcel Uderzo, brother to the famed humourist.  The cynic inside me cries ‘ruse’ but I try to ignore him.

Let’s look at what is good about the book, because it does have some value.  The cover is a beautiful oil painting, capturing the grandure and the spectacle of early flight in a world that spent most of its time on the ground.  The sky is vast, its possibilities tantalisingly close.  The ‘Flyer’ itself is a delicate thing made of wooden struts and looks pretty damn precarious to be in.  In contrast to his organic and lively cover Uderzo’s internal art has something of the draughtsman to it, highly detailed and full of crisp straight lines.  There was an awful lot of time and care put into this book by the illustrator.  The flyer itself is shown from various angles, with every strut delineated.  Of particular note is the sailing ship on page 11, bewildering in the complexity of rope and spar.  Between these and the richly detailed rooms on pages 4 & 9 it is immediately clear that Uderzo has a great eye and a steady hand.

Unfortunately the book suffers from the peculiar stiltedness most often found in school plays.  The words spoken feel overly scripted, determined to get across key facts with little naturalism to convince you they are spoken by real people.  The historical dress and buildings feel convincing and the people are well proportioned and consistent.  Sadly the faces carry two expressions at best – satisfied smiles or mildly grumpy.  The colourist (Monique Ott) uses pastel shades through most of the book which can be wonderful on occasion, but largely fails to bring the heavy linework to life.

Regretfully I cannot recommend this book as an educational tool, other than to show people what the Flyer looked like.  It doesn’t inspire me to want to learn more about the subject matter and , critically, the cover filled me with a far greater sense of awe and excitement than any of the pages within.


GS Reporter: Dion Winton-Polak

You can hear me blather about books on Scrolls, the podcast for literary geekdom here on the Geek Syndicate Network.
Follow me on Twitter @Dion_Scrolls too if you like.

Next up on Cinebook Reviews is XIII: El Cascador.

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