Battle of Britain: Cinebook Recounts

A comic review article by: Penny Kenny
By June of 1940, Hitler and his allies controlled continental Europe. Great Britain stood alone. That summer, the outnumbered pilots of the Royal Air Force, many of them volunteers and amateurs, were all that stood between Britain and the German invasion.

Cinebook Recounts Battle of Britain is a beautiful documentary on paper. Combining the best of both words and pictures, it tells the story of an important moment in history. Beginning with the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk, the narrative follows through until January of 1941. The second half of the book is devoted to the bombing of Germany, beginning in March of 1943 and continuing until the war's end.

Writer Bernard Asso and illustrator Francis Bergese cover both sides of the war. Readers are able to follow both an English and German pilot into battle and up the promotional latter. While neither one is strongly characterized they do give the reader someone to be invested in. One of the best personal moments in the book is a scene involving an American and British pilot going out to have drinks with two young women. It only lasts six panels, yet you get a feel for the kind of men they are.

One of the interesting things about the book is how Asso handles the conflicts within each chain of command. Hitler's staff, for instance, can't understand why he just doesn't go ahead and invade England. His "I'll give England the option of peace. Let's not forget the English are our cousins" doesn't work for Goering. It might not work for readers either, but Asso doesn't try to elaborate on it. There are no scenes of Hitler soliloquizing or enumerating his reasons. Asso presents it as a historical fact and leaves it at that. On the British side of things, Sir Dowding argues for conservation of the aerial forces, while others in Churchill's cabinet want an all out assault. Again, Asso doesn't spend a great deal of time on the personal. He conveys the gist of the disagreement to readers and moves on. Later, after the United States has entered the war and joined Britain in bombing Germany, readers see a difference in opinion on tactics between the two allies. Neither side comes out looking all that well, though what I'm taking for callousness could be seen as practicality by others.

The art is lovely. Bergese is a master at drawing aircraft. A World War II buff or plane enthusiast might be able to find a mistake, but the bombers, Spitfires, and Messerschmitt's look right to me. The many battles are presented dramatically and clearly. Bergese keeps to a grid layout and there's no bleeding of panels into the gutter. This strict adherence to the classic comic book format makes the details of the material easier to absorb. In several scenes there are multiple planes involved in the action, with Bergese switching back and forth from the British to the German point of view between panels to show what the battle was like on both sides. Because he focuses on one action per panel and each panel is clearly delineated, the reader never gets confused as to what's happening or which viewpoint they're seeing things from. It's comic book storytelling at its finest.

While I can't judge as to Bergese's accuracy on catching the historical characters' likenesses, with the exception of Churchill and Hitler who are well done, he does do a good job with the human cast. The men have a mature look about them, with the kind of faces familiar to anyone who's ever watched the WWII movies of the 40s and 50s: affable, clean-cut, strong jawed, and stubborn. Bergese also makes a point of showing the shadows and bags under their eyes as they deal with two many flights in too short of time.

Cinebook Recounts Battle of Britain is a wonderful basic introduction to WWII for younger readers that can also be appreciated by fans of good art and solid storytelling.

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