Writer and artists: Marvano (also known as Mark van Oppen)
Colour work: Claude Legris
Translator: Jerome Saincantin
Letters and Layouts: Imadjinn
What's it about?
The story is set across two years: 1993 and 1943. In 1943 seven men form the crew of the Lancaster S-Snowwhite. It is called Snowwhite because it is black, like Snow White's hair, and has a crew of seven. Their job is to bomb Germany. In 1993 two women exchange a 50 year old letter. The book focuses on the lives of the seven men aboard the plane - the realities of bombing raids, the threats from enemy fighters and the relationships formed on the ground.
What's good about it?
Oh, this is difficult to explain. It is a superb book. It's incredibly moving and left me feeling emotionally drained each time I read it. I have always found World War II stories upsetting: when, as a teenager, I visited the huge graveyards in Northern France I got quite hysterical - seeing all those graves of such young men was hugely upsetting for me.
The main bulk of the tale, that of Aubie's life as a pilot, is frenetic. Death is mentioned on every page. The crew laugh and joke, and they have good days - but always, always, the spectre of their death, the threat of German bombers, and the knowledge of what their bombs will do, looms over them.
This is an amazingly powerful book.
Nothing worth noting.
What's the art like?
Ahh! Looking at this art reminds me of why I like reviewing comics. On the first read I absorb the pages and process the story. On my second read I pay more attention and focus on how the comic is put together, and the reading experience becomes richer for it.
Take the first page. We open on the cast flatness of Lincolnshire. That part of England that is utterly flat and goes on and on, monotonously for miles, with next to nothing to break it up. The panels on this page capture the isolation, the loneliness I always feel in that landscape. It's so empty. The characters on the page are drawn small, emphasising their insignificance and the smallness of people in this windswept landscape.
After this sense of space the next scene comes a shock. Page three is sixteen boxes depicting the cockpit during a flight. Each panel is a close up - either of the pilot's face, the instruments, a blast of gun fire, or the plane's controls. The narration talks about the roar of the engine, the darkness, the reliance on your navigator. The emotions are fear and panic.
Most of the scenes are similar in palette and feel to the above samples, however every so often there are a couple of panels that jump out. For example this one of the iconography on the plane:
Or this one of the sunset:
The contrast between the beauty of the setting sun and the events in people's lives is remarkable.
Buy Berlin direct from the publisher, Cinebook, here.
If you like historical comics, I can recommend the following.
Joe Sacco's Palestine - the journalist's account of life in occupied Palestine.
Pride of Baghdad - concerning the Iraq invasion and the Baghdad zoo destroyed in the bombing.
X-Men Magneto: Testament - about the Nazi holocaust and life in the death camps. Do not be put off by the X-men title. It is not a superhero book.
Laika - the dog that Russia sent into space.
Incognegro - a fictionalised account of an undercover journalist, passing as white and able to expose American lynchings.
Fiction stories with emphasis on real world histories can be found here, and war stories can be found here.
If you like this book, try out Cinebook's other offerings. We have reviewed several here and you can find more on their website. I haven't read a book of theirs I haven't liked.
Many thanks to Cinebook for providing me with a review copy.