Friday, April 27, 2018

Book Review: Sketches of a Black Cat - Full Color Collector's Edition: Story of a night flying WWII pilot and artist by Ron Miner

Great Stories, Interesting Art, and More Would Have Been Even Better

Ever wonder who paints those pictures on the front of aircraft?  In the book, Sketches of a Black Cat, you’ll meet one such pilot and artist in the memoir written by his son.  Howard (Howie) Miner was a WWII Navy Seaplane pilot and although he probably never painted his plane (they were black for night operations), he was also an artist.  He sketched many other works for his buddies and himself, from pictures of family to scenes from his area of operations – the South Pacific.

The book moves quickly, covering training and two tours of duty in less than 250 pages including numerous photographs.  Through the first tour, the pace is perhaps a little too fast, but then the story slows a bit and the reader gets a closer glimpse at Howard Miner’s life and his art.  Although he flew several types of missions – humanitarian, bombing, and others – the search and rescue of downed pilots dominated the book.  Many of these operations were accomplished at great peril and involving incredible skill.  Landing in heavy seas “…tested the mettle of the metal” and holes from missing rivets and bullets were plugged with golf tees and pencils.  Not every rescue was a success, of course, and some of the deaths seemed cruel twists of fate.  Life between flights is also described, where rations seemed to vary from feast to famine and weather from picturesque sunsets to hurricane force winds and torrential rain.  But with the aid of the occasion R&R, Howard and his buddies persisted and generally did so with a sense of humor.

The artwork in the book included photographs of people, notebooks, maps, letters, and Howard Miner’s sketches.  The drawings were both pencil and in color, the latter appearing mostly later in the book.  Photos of people seemed to predominate and I would have liked to see many more of Howard’s sketches.  For the potential reader, the quality of the computer rendering may be a question.  On my 7” Amazon Fire, the pictures were crisp and clear, although the writing was sometimes too small to read.  I also viewed some of the book using the Kindle app on a PC and here, I could enlarge the pictures so that even the smallest details were apparent.

Overall, the pictures and stories from Sketches of a Black Cat will give you a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the skills, persistence, and life of the pilots and crew that flew the Black Cats in WWII.  It’s a story well worth reading…and seeing.

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