The Male Gaze in BD Part 2: “Le Grand Duc”

Story – Yann

Illustration – Romain Hugault

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Since I fell in love with Romain Hugault’s art in “The Final Flight,” in 2011 I decided to order a full series he illustrated for Paquet’s “Cockpit” collection. I settled on “Le Grand Duc,” which tells the story of two veteran pilots on the Eastern Front between 1943-45. Published in three albums, collected editions run about $100 on Amazon.com. I purchased mine through Amazon.fr for about $80, although the cost of shipping was almost as much as the price of the books!

Unlike “The Final Flight,” this series features more character development. Disappointingly, the story, created by the famous bande dessinée writer Yann, is predictable and the characters are clichéd. The two main characters are Wulf and Lilya. Wulf is the stereotypical “good German” – a patriotic Luftwaffe pilot who defends his country while also detesting Nazi ideology. Lilya is female pilot flying in the Soviet air force. Inevitably, romantic tension swells between the two enemies.

In addition, supporting characters are also uninspired. One of Wulf’s fellow pilots is a Jew who struggles with conflicting loyalties. Yann also perpetuates the stereotype of Soviet commissars as political officers obsessed with rooting out defeatists and ensuring ideological purity. In reality, political supervision was only one part of the commissar’s duties, which also included providing for soldiers’ educational, morale, and welfare needs.

The story begins with Lilya as a member of the famous “Night Witches” 588th Night Bomber Regiment. The story does deal with real issues that women like Lilya had to face, including sexism and unwanted affection from male comrades. In this respect, it’s better than “The Final Flight”; however, it retains the male gaze that I discussed in my first bande dessinée review. Although Lilya has a strong personality and never backs down from a threat, Yann and Hugault take every opportunity to remind their readers that she is a voluptuous woman. They titillate the audience by frequently finding any excuse for Lilya to be partially or fully naked. In addition, Yann adds a promiscuous and treacherous member of the helferinnen (women’s auxiliary to the Luftwaffe) to the story, which only reinforces the male gaze and perpetuates sexist myths about women in the armed forces.

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On the other hand, Hugault’s art remains fantastic and there’s ample aerial combat. He portrays a number of different airplanes in lavish detail, as seen above. Aeronautical enthusiasts will be pleased by the wide array of aircraft depicted in the book, including staples such as the IL-2, LA-5, Me109, and Fw190, but also more obscure planes such as the Hs129 ground attack craft, Ta152 advanced fighter, and He219 night interceptor. Each planche tends to include several large images to show off the detailed renderings of each aircraft. A few wide panoramic images span both pages in order to give the reader a rich and expansive scene. Otherwise, Hugault doesn’t provide much else in terms of artistic innovation, although the gouttière (gap space between each image) is rendered in black on several pages instead of white in order to portray action at night.

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