Unfortunate Mishaps in Aviation History by Emi Gennis

Written and Illustrated by Emi Gennis

Though flying is pretty much standardized and as safe as it can be, with accidents minimized and precautions taken at every turn, it wasn't always like that. Journey back in time with Emi Gennis as she looks at two stories of ill-fated attempts at flying back in the early days of man's exploration with gaining wings.

Long-time readers know I love historical nonfiction comics. Whether it's Rick Geary's murders or the lovely accounts that appear almost daily on the The Nib, I love how others use a combination of graphical images and texts to tell stories--the more unlikely to be covered in a typical book I'd pick up, the better.

I found this one at my lovely local library and immediately enjoyed it. In the first story, Emi chronicles the life of Franz Reichelt, a man who wanted to design a parachute for aviators, saving their lives Ironically, while jumping off the Eiffel Tower to prove the trustworthiness of his design, he was killed when it failed to deploy successfully.

Like Reichelt's life, this story is short, with the bulk of the mini covering an Arctic exploration by hot air balloon that went horribly wrong. Looking to be the first men to the North Pole, S.A. Andree and his small team thought travelling by air would be superior to the grueling attempts made by land. (As we all know, exploring the poles generally led to great sacrifice and/or death for those who dared.) After miscalculating the effects of thin air on the balloon, they crashed, tried to find their way back, and ultimately camped on the ice, dying. The team wasn't found until 1930.

 It was a different time, and now it seems we are less inclined to do dangerous things to gain fame or further science. Space would likely see more deaths if governments were more willing to do or allow the things they sponsored/permitted in the 19th Century.

Brief, factual, and informative, Emi's depiction of these events falls in line with most of the others I've read. She does a great job of picking out key moments to illustrate, narrating as necessary. There are a few word balloons put in to give it dialogue and a bit of drama, but the focus is on the boxes of storytelling and the visuals that accompany them. I really like her depictions, which are realistic without feeling like photos. In the story of the hot air balloon, there's a great focus on the balloon itself, rising to success--and crashing to failure.

Gennis's characters don't show a ton of emotion in these pages, which is probably the only area in which it falls a bit short. Those that discover the expedition, for example, are a bit too stoic. She does better with Reichelt's section, showing the horror-filled looks on the faces of the spectators. The best part of the art is the use of blacks and grey tones, which give this mini a strong sense of shading and color, even though it's black and white. Buildings, clothing, and other items get their own slight changes in inking to allow for variety and adding depth to the material.

This was a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it for non-fiction comic fans. You can pick up a copy from Emi at her website, where you can also read some of her comics online.