written by YANN and illustrated by Romain Hugault.
Published by: Archaia
This fantastic graphic novel is set in the Second World War and contains three volumes originally published in French by publisher Editions Paquet under their ‘Cockpit’ imprint. It is a thoughtful reflection of two pilots engaged in the dreadful war on the Eastern front from 1943 until the fall of Germany.
We follow Oberluetenant Adolf Wulf a fighter pilot with ‘Nachtjager 3’, a Night Hunter flying in a Focke Wolf 190 and Lilya Litvasky, a female pilot with the ‘Nachthexen’, the Night Witches, who flew in a PO-2 biplane bomber of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment.
Wulf is portrayed as the good German and generally a bad Nazi, having requested his swastika to be blanked out, something that would have been unthinkable, while Lilya is determined to fight against the Nazis and rather like Wulf has her own internal fights, but against her political officer.
The three books are beautifully crafted. We watch as Wulf descends into a type of melancholy, already a widower. His daughter asks him not to kill any women, while Lilya gets promoted as a heroine to fighter planes and then uses her female wiles to get an actual plane, fighting as always to fight, but on this occasion against sexism.
Both have relationships of sorts. Although Lilya develops hers positively with a Soviet pilot, Wulf starts to shun his occasional girl friend, a Luftwaffe Auxiliary, finding no solace in physical pleasure, his pet owl being his only real companion.
As Lilya moves into fighters, Wulf gets the Heinkel 219 UHU night fighter, known as the Grand Duke. This extremely powerful twin-engine fighter was armed with four 20mm and two 30mm cannons and was modern in many ways, having a tricycle landing gear, a pressurised cockpit and an ejection seat, but it was all about the radar and the ability to hunt at night. It is drawn perfectly and it is this attention to detail that makes one appreciate the historical research and the accuracy, which are pleasing, adding a certain confidence in the story, giving it a realism that the romantic nature of the story could render unbelievable. It is a razor edge that the creative team balance on superbly.
Lilya and Wulf are destined to meet, and they do both in the air and on the ground. There is a harsh brutality about the comic; the horrors of war, especially for a women are not hidden and the desperation and futility of war are aptly portrayed. Both characters face issues amongst their own squadron, and Wulf has quite an interesting quandary with his friend while also having a distinct enemy.
Yann does a superb job of growing the characters. He weaves a lovely story, the relationships between the characters being very realistic and not at all idyllic and this is only matched by Hugault’s incredible skill as an illustrator.
The son of French Air Force Colonel, he was flying at 17 but decided to go into illustration rather than the Air Force. His ability to draw aircraft is extraordinary, and Dassault for instance use him for promotional material. His art also appears on aeronautical magazines. This ability and knowledge of aircraft is reflected in the accuracy of the planes in the comic. I loved how the transportation planes would change, the details of the planes so incredibly accurate, the action in the sky so full of speed and movement, and it is matched by his care and portrayal of uniforms, and the characters. Lilya is very beautiful and his ability to portray a real woman is notable.
Archaia have been inspired to translate and publish this brilliant comic. One wonders if they will look at The Last Flight and Beyond the Clouds, both written by Régis Hautière and The Pilot Edelweiss written by Yann all with art by Hugault.
Hugault has a blog that one can use Google to Translate and it is well worth it http://romain-hugault.blogspot.co.uk