We all know about the iconic “One small step for man…” that prefaced Neil Armstrong stepping onto the Moon for the first time in Huan history – but now Matt Fitch and Chris Baker have brought the entire story of the monumental event in their new graphic novel, Apollo. We spoke to their pair about the creative process that went into the book.
What was it that drew you to retelling this story in a graphic novel format?
It struck us that the story of the Apollo program and the lives of those involved already read like a movie or comic, full of drama, emotion, and high stakes. We’d been writing shorter self-published comics for a while and this felt like something very different but exciting for us to get our teeth into, and the more research we did the more the story sucked us in. We liked the idea that while on the surface it’s a tale of three men in a spaceship on the most incredible journey ever taken, it’s also a story about America as a whole. We love America for all its flaws and Apollo is an ode to that great nation and what it, and we the citizens of planet Earth, can do when we put our minds to it.
How did you approach writing the three astronauts?
The Apollo astronauts, and particularly Neil Armstrong, have been deified in the years since their mission to the moon, but we wanted to understand them as human beings. We’re both Fathers and so the death of Neil’s three year-old daughter was something that resonated strongly with us, as did Buzz’s Daddy issues. Mike Collins is interesting because he’s often the ‘forgotten’ member of the trio but he was critical to the success of the mission and we enjoyed exploring how he felt carrying the expectations of an entire planet on his shoulders. The key for us was finding aspects of these extraordinary men that us ordinary folk could relate to.
When researching such a monumental moment in history – was there any point where you debated fictionalising the events – adding in your own twist in the tale; aliens/’faking’ the moon landing etc?
Never. What was achieved in 1969 was an amazing feat and so we always wanted Apollo to be a faithful and respectful retelling of true events. We meticulously researched every detail, from what was said to how things worked, and even consulted NASA and the Smithsonian to make sure our facts were straight. Of course, we’ve taken creative license in places, but only with regard to what people were thinking or feeling (because nobody really knows apart from those people).
When exploring the urban legends that go hand-in-hand with the Apollo 11, were there any you discovered that were too wild + crazy to address in the story?
We had a whole prologue about American soldiers attacking a Nazi stronghold to capture rocket scientists and prototypes… totally true and actually a very interesting and important part of the Apollo story, but it didn’t feel right for this particular graphic novel.
There were also some really great moments on the mission that we wanted to include but ended up leaving out for reasons of pacing. Did you know that Buzz Aldrin accidentally broke the switch that would start the engine and lift them off the moon but kept cool and fixed it using a pen? His cool-headed thinking saved their lives, but ultimately it wasn’t pertinent to the story we were trying to tell, so we left it out (although eagle-eyed readers will see it acknowledged in one of the panels).
What were the challenges of creating these real-life events on the page?
With any other artist, getting the technical details of the mission correct would have been a huge challenge, but luckily our artist was Mike Collins. We approached him because we loved his work and thought it was a great fit, but it turns out he’s also a huge space nut and was actually born on the same day that Alan Shepherd became the first American in space (plus he shares a name with one of the Apollo 11 crew so you could say he was meant to draw this). Mike’s knowledge of the mission and the technology involved meant we could rely on him to keep every panel accurate. His TV experience also came in handy (he’s the storyboard artist on Doctor Who amongst other things) because he was able to turn what could have been fairly boring space scenes (lots of black!) into very cinematic scenes.
Looking ahead to the future, can you give us an insight into anything you’ve got planned?
We have countless stories to tell, some of which already exist in script form, others still at treatment stage, and our plan is to get those stories published while continuing to hone our craft. There’s nothing concrete to report just yet but we’re working on something very exciting (and very different to Apollo) with our friend J Francis Totti so watch this space…