Science Comics: Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared
First Second’s Science Comics line combines the best of everything: fascinating stories, entertaining education, and talented creators who know how to make good comics. Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared is no exception. (Previous titles include Bats, Volcanoes, Dinosaurs, and my personal favorite, Coral Reefs.)
Alison Wilgus wrote and Molly Brooks illustrated this brief history of powered flight by heavier-than-air constructions. I was charmed from the beginning, with the choice to have the story narrated by Katharine Wright, sister of the famous airplane inventors the Wright Brothers. Typical of American history instruction, I previously had no idea she existed, let alone that she was so smart, hard-working, and supportive.
There’s some really nice comic technique in her appearances, too, as she’s drawn in the gutters between panels in a faded grey, reminding us she’s our guide, not part of the scenes we’re reading. The overall color scheme is shades of dark greyish blue and a warm brown. It’s surprisingly effective in suggesting a richer palette and gives a feeling of the past, but not a remote one.
Brooks does a terrific job keeping all the inventions believable and the characters in motion. The book covers more than just Orville and Wilbur Wright, with mentions of those who experimented with gliders and French aviators and information on the physics of flight, with plenty of diagrams. The underlying message, beyond how they proceeded with careful determination, is that of the scientific method, with observation and experimentation and small but important advances.
The last 15 or so pages switch to the story of Frank Whittle, who thirty-some years later worked on the turbojet engine, but I found this section too short to be satisfying and unconnected to the rest. I would have rather read about the controversy about determining who was the first to fly, including the Smithsonian contract with Orville Wright, but that was probably deemed too complicated and off-topic for a book aimed at young readers. There are also a few short text biographies of other aviation pioneers and two pages on Katharine Wright’s life, plus a glossary.
I admit, the history of airplanes wasn’t a subject I was dying to dig into, but any Science Comic First Second puts out, I’ll read, because they all wind up interesting and informative. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)