“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” - Neil Armstrong
We all know the famous words associated with the first moon landing from 1969, but how many of us know the real story behind those early space explorers?
This summer, self-Made Hero released Apollo, which documents the story behind the historical Apollo 11 space mission that led to mankind first setting foot on the moon.
Newsarama spoke with writers Chris Baker and Matt Fitch about Apollo, which they completed with artist Mike Collins. The duo explained why this was a story they were excited to tell and the ways in which they might surprise readers with a chapter from our school history books that we already know … or do we?
Newsarama: Apollo aims unpacks the urban legends, the gossip, and speculation surrounding the historical moon landing that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were involved in back in 1969. Matt, Chris, In truth, are most American really aware of their being much "gossip and speculation" around this event? What led you to want to explore this little known "story behind the story"?
Matt Fitch: Most people know the broad strokes of the story but what we were interested in were the elements that you might not find in the official accounts - the resentment Buzz held against Neil for being first out of the Lunar Lander, the program being used as a political tool, the fact that not everybody in America thought it was a particularly good use of tax-payers money and wanted it shut down… overall the story is positive and full of hope, but when you look a little deeper, it isn’t always as ‘star-spangled’ as the history books would have us believe.
Chris Baker: One piece of gossip we often hear is that the moon landing didn’t happen. We didn’t want to give this silly urban legend credence by overtly referencing it in the book but we hope that by exploring this piece of history on a more human level we can make people believe once and for all that this was a real event involving real people. They breathed, they felt, they loved. You can’t fake that.
Nrama: Of the historical characters involved, whose narrative arc did you find most compelling and why?
Fitch: When Chris and I started writing Apollo I’d just become a new father, so Neil Armstrong’s loss of his young daughter resonated strongly with me. He never admitted it himself, but many believe that this tragedy was what led him to throw himself into the space race and ultimately walk on the moon. Neil was an “everyman” and very easy to relate to, so using his arc to explore universal concepts of life, death and rebirth was something that I found very compelling.
Baker: Mike Collins (the astronaut, not the artist!), for me personally, was the most fun. He is that forgotten American hero. Because his story is largely untold, we felt most comfortable getting inventive with him. He had a list of jobs, which were pivotal to the mission, and we explored their importance. He ultimately succeeded and confronted the demons racing through his mind.
Nrama: By and large, the comic itself concerns itself with historical fact, or at least, realistic accounts of what took place surrounding the moonwalk in 1969. What sources did you use to help develop the dialogue we hear between son and father, husband and wife, and President and First Lady?
Fitch: Our main ‘source’ was our imaginations. Anybody can read up about these events on Wikipedia, but as writers, we wanted to put ourselves and our readers into the shoes of the key characters. How would Neil’s wife Janet be feeling as her husband blasted off into the unknown? How would she act around other people? What would she say to her children? How would Apollo 11’s message of peace and unity go down with the soldiers fighting in Vietnam? What would the loving wife of the President say to calm her husband on the eve of the launch as the press and naysayers closed in? As writers, it was up to us to give voices to these characters.
Baker: The conversation between the President and First Lady was something of a guess based on our understanding of the people and the way America reacts to events and assigns praise or blame. Richard Nixon was a man with a chip on his shoulder, and this scene used that. It’s us using creative license to speculate about what a private conversation might sound like based on our understanding of the historical figures.
Nrama: There is one page in particular that seemed especially of interest when President Nixon recounts to his wife how the success of the Apollo mission would be attributed to John F. Kennedy but its failure would rest on him. How accurate would you say Nixon's assessment was given where we are now?
Fitch: Nowadays, when you think of the moon, you think of Kennedy. He was the man with the vision to get the ball rolling. Nixon… well, he’ll be remembered for other things, won’t he?
Baker: The whole thing feels a bit tainted by his presence when you stop and think. This ‘crooked’ guy has his signature on the moon right now. But the world may have remembered him if the mission failed.
Nrama: Because we're focusing on an historical account, it makes sense for the artwork to adopt a more realistic style for the story. Yet, there are times when Mike Collins deviates from a more linear approach especially with some of the flashback and dream sequences. Can you share your thoughts on why the decision was made to go in this direction, and how do you think it helps further tell the story of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins?
Fitch: We wanted there to be a clear delineation between the more factual ‘present day’ mission scenes and the more ‘point of view’ nature of the flashbacks, so we worked with Mike, as well as colourists Kris Carter and Jason Cardy, to create a subtle change in style between certain scenes, which we think goes a long way to helping the reader get under the skin of what the characters were going through in those moments.
Baker: The art needed to adapt to the mood of the script to create the glowing dreamlike state the narrative is set up to be. The ‘dream’ sequences were purposely written to be less linear, with a looser panel structure and more whimsical, dreamlike dialogue.
Nrama: The Ben Day Dots were one method Kris and Jason used to help set the tone for the story. How else did you and both along with Collins and the art team help immerse the reader in the setting of the story?
Fitch: We originally approached Mike to draw Apollo because his overall style lent itself well to the classic comic book look we were aiming for. But what we didn’t know when we gave him the script was that he was a keen space historian himself and knew the details of the mission inside out! Between the three of us we made sure that everything on the page, from the ships to the spacesuits to the switches on the flight consoles were accurate so that readers could be fully immersed in the world of the story.
Baker: We also made sure that all the dialogue was authentic to the era. Some of the in-ship stuff is adapted from actual NASA transcripts, but everything else came from us and we didn’t want to ruin the experience for anybody by getting the lingo wrong! It was fun to research and write.
Nrama: For a final thought, what do you think it is about the 1969 moon landing that makes it a story worth telling almost fifty years after the event?
Fitch: The moon landing shows what we as a species can do when we put our mind to it. At the time, the optimists believed setting foot on another world would usher in an era of peace on this one. Sadly, that reality hasn’t emerged yet, but maybe by reminding ourselves what we’re capable of it can one day.
Baker: Nothing close to setting foot on another world has happened in nearly fifty years. This story is awe-inspiring and could do with more light on it. It was an adventure just reading about these three incredible men and having a chance to enhance and dramatically interpret their personal stories, and we hope to pass on some of that awe to our own readers.