Wayne Vansant’s The Red Baron: the graphic history of Richthofen’s Flying Circus and the Air War in WWI, the fifth in his series of graphic novel for the Zenith Graphic History series, was released last month to wide acclaim. As with the previous volumes in the series, Normandy, Grant Vs Lee, Bombing Nazi Germany, and Gettysburg, the books were packaged for Zenith by GDC’s Comics Production Services. A sixth volume, The Battle of the Bulge, will be published by Zenith in Fall, 2014.
In his review for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Joseph May commented on Vansant’s use of the graphic novel medium to transcend some limitations of non-visual history writing:
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.
Aviation history website Warbirds News recommended the book with praise: “Vansant beautifully depicts the fearsome intelligence and mid-flight awareness that would earn Richthofen eighty documented air combat victories over the Western Front in the halcyon days of military aviation.”
Defense Media Networks extensive review recalled that though Vansant has done histories of the Civil War, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam, The Red Baron is his first on the topic of World War I. Steve Horan writes that Vansant accomplishes much more than a simple biography of one man:
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.
HistoryComics, a website founded by educator Tim Smyth, also reviewed The Red Baron. In a teacher-written round-up of World War I graphic novels that included work by Jaques Tardi, Joe Sacco, and Max Brooks, the website rated it “excellent” and described how to use The Red Baron in classrooms, as well as praising it for it’s thoroughness and humor:
The book begins with the origins of planes in warfare and the development of tactics – not too detailed – just enough to give some background and to help lead for more research – well done. Funny – description of unarmed pilots throwing wrenches at each other before guns were mounted on the planes. Maps and land battles are also included – very well explained. Tanks, Russian Revolution, American entry into the war – are all covered in this book.