Article Type: Book Review
Article Date: May 31, 2002
Flying Aces by James H. Kitchens and Bernard C. Nalty
Bomber Missions by G.E. Patrick Murray
|'Flying Aces' by James H. Kitchens and Bernard C. Nalty |
Words and pictures can each deliver a message, but they aren't mutually exclusive. Text can pack detail into short spaces and spark the intellect; art can bring color and verisimilitude to the imagination. Each has strengths in speaking to a viewer or reader and it's no secret that they can be used together in synergy. The two work together nicely in the Friedman/Fairfax line of military art books.
The volumes in question are a series of art collections, compiling highlights from the work of contemporary military artists. Each oversized book brims with more than a hundred pages of art and text and each follows a particular theme of war. The two observed for this article are Flying Aces by James H. Kitchens and Bernard Nalty, and Bomber Missions by G.E. Patrick Murray. The authors begin each book with a short introduction to their topic, and each page brings gorgeous pictures of artwork accompanied by a short passage describing the scene or contextually relevant matter.
|'Bomber Missions' by G.E. Patrick Murray |
The stars of each book are easily the marvelous color reproductions of artwork from some of the best in the aviation art business. There are the brilliant works of masters Robert Taylor and Nicolas Trudgian, the unmistakable crisp images from Stan Stokes, and the endearing human ambiance in the paintings of James Dietz. Here too are the fine creations of Gil Cohen, Keith Ferris, Nixon Galloway, William S. Phillips, and more.
The unsung strength of these paintings is not that they're as lovely as they are, but that they even exist. Through them viewers can visit historical sites and witness scenes cameras did not capture.
The artists do as much research as some historians do, and many of these paintings and their captions introduce readers to lesser known squadrons, heroes, and missions. Robert Bailey's Arctic Encounter shows a German aerial raid on English ships. Robert Taylor's Operation Chastise depicts an equally rare image of Avro Lancasters in a dam-busting role. Stan Stokes gives us an uncommon look at the Consolidated B-36 Dominator, the successor to the B-24, in his painting The Hobo Queens. Stokes also comes through for the underdogs several times in the Flying Aces book. In Buffalo Ace, he illustrates the plucky Finn and ace Eino I. Juuttilainen doing his best with the Brewster F2A Buffalo. Stokes also paints a pretty Macchi in his Italian Air Stallion, which honors pilot Adriano Visconti.
It often feels like Stokes weighs in more heavily than the other artists, but complaining about this is like whining that a chocolate chip cookie has too many chocolate chips. And Stokes and the rest do not forego the famous aviators either. Chuck Yeager, Gabby Gabreski, Joe Foss, Adolf Galland, and Gregory Boyington are all here. Between both books, the reader gets exposure to a wide sweep of WWII. There's the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Marines scraping by at Guadalcanal, Rodeos flying over the English Channel, and German jets clawing at bomber formations in the final defense.
|Robert Bailey's 'Arctic Encounter' |
There are representatives from all the world's air forces, though clearly Bomber Missions could be called "Strategic" Bomber Missions given its bias toward heavy bombers. Where Flying Aces is more cosmopolitan in listing aces from various countries, Bomber Missions skews heavily to the American and English participation in skies over Europe. The Pacific Theater gets less representation, and the US Navy's stalwart SBD Dauntless is completely without mention. Friedman/Fairfax, however, has another art book about the carrier war, and I'm betting it compensates for the omission; just to be sure, COMBATSIM.COM will take a look at it in a future article.
|Robert Taylor's 'Operation Chastise' |
Although buyers will likely purchase these items for the art, so much so that they might even skip the text, it's encouraging to see some nuggets in the written portions. The captions do a fine job of sharing interesting trivia about the war and the paintings. Judicious use of photos adds to the presentation, and Flying Aces does well including black and white portraits of aces with related paintings. The Flying Aces text, however, sometimes meanders away from the art and leaves a plate without description. Text in Bomber Missions more consistently educates readers about specific events related to the pictures.
|Stan Stokes' 'Buffalo Ace' |
Both books have some signs of sloppiness in the writing. With the limited space, the lack of detail is excusable, but errors are embarrassing. In Bomber Missions, page 95's caption for one of the few photos in the book says the still shot is of a bomber crew, six officers and four crewmen. It appears there are four officers, actually, standing and wearing brimmed officer caps, while the six men kneeling in front are likely the enlisted, wearing their cloth overseas caps sans any officer markings. In Flying Aces, text on page 93 accompanies a Roy Grinnell painting of David McCampbell's F6F Hellcat. It claims McCampbell branded his steed "Mitzi" but Grinnell clearly painted "The Minsi" on the side of the fuselage. Grinnell is correct.
The worst offense the books commit is perhaps the most unavoidable one. Nearly all the paintings stretch across the gutter of the book, leaving ugly interruptions in these beautiful pictures. Printing the paintings large enough to capture the detail perhaps required this. Restricting the paintings to a single page, as the creators do with some of the illustrations, certainly preserves the wholeness of the art, but at a loss of impact. But making the pages or book any larger would make it unwieldy; it's already oversized.
|David McCampbell poses in his F6F Hellcat called 'MINSI' |
Except for the minor complaints, these are fine additions to any aviation book collection. They'll cost you a fraction of the money and space it takes to own these paintings, and are nice reads to boot. The art contained within is simply fabulous and never gets old with repeated viewing. These are excellent books for aviation fans, artists, and history lovers.
These art books don't teach a lot of tactics, but offer something most texts don't in the form of graphical inspiration. Flip through enough paintings of the beautiful WWII warbirds in action, and you'll be primed for another spin in European Air War, Combat Flight Simulator 2, or IL-2 Sturmovik.
Both books are available via Amazon.com and the Military Book Club and are published by Friedman/Fairfax. Bomber Missions (2001) ISBN 1-58663-081-4, and Flying Aces (2000) ISBN 1-56799-815-1.