This graphic novel telling the story of the first Apollo moon landing makes a timely touchdown in Britain’s bookshops as many of the participants in, and observers and commentators on, America’s mission to the moon are themselves passing into history- most recently, Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon, and Tom Wolfe, whose book The Right Stuff remains essential reading on the culture clash between Navy jet test pilots and those groomed to become astronauts.
Apollo’s dust jacket describes the graphic novel as unpacking “the urban legends, the gossip and the speculation” around the Apollo 11 moon mission but, thankfully, writers Matt Fitch and Chris Baker do not address the ignorant conspiracy theories that now circulate on the internet, flat Earth conventions and parties where self-aggrandising know-nothings sneeringly claim special knowledge of the secret workings of the world.
Daryl (Sav Sadness) Cunningham has already debunked the debunkers in Science Tales his graphic infomercial for empirical enquiry. Fitch and Baker do something else by juxtaposing the human stories of the astronauts in their ‘tin can’ with the vast, inhuman emptiness of space and, at the same time, contrast the utopian sentiments of JFK with the cynicism of the Vietnam war and Nixon’s Whitehouse. ”If those men die up there those”, mutters Nixon referring to himself in the third person, “the people will remember Nixon. If they come home...they’ll remember HIM.”
For kids, watching the Apollo landing live (it was broadcast on the BBC and ITV from 11.30pm onwards) or on the next day was thrilling. Criticism was the preserve of adults, particularly, members of the Sixties’ counterculture who resented being read Bible passages by Republicans in space and who saw the entire escapade as a cynical product of America’s Military-Industrial complex. At heart, Apollo is an uplifting read. The book is dedicated to the creator’s daughters which is appropriate because the legacy of space exploration continues to the present day and beyond. It made real what was previously the preserve of science fiction. Mike Collins’s artwork captures this excitement, particularly its human face, the fears, fun and even fantasies of the astronauts and their families. Apollo exemplifies Collins’s strengths as a comic book artist.
Collins’s work on licensed properties such as Dr Who, Star Trek and Babylon 5 displays a good eye for likenesses without being overly dependent on photo reference. He is also a great storyteller. Too many publications claim to be graphic novels but are actually great gobbets of info-dumping stuck alongside illustrations of varying quality. In contrast, Collins divides up the text with expertly placed panels to give the story the kind of energy and excitement which can be found in his superhero work back in the day, particularly his revisioning of Charlton’s Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt for DC. Although Collins’s focus is on human interaction, the most striking pages are those that place the moon-craft against the dark of the void between Earth and the moon.
Apollo is an enormously appealing publication and reasonably priced for a hardback at a time when the exchange rate is all but pricing American products out of the comic book marketplace. Special mention should also go Kris Candy and Jason Carter whose colours, reproduced in a manner that resembles four-colour comics of old, do much to make the strip interesting to the eye. If you believe NASA put a man on the moon, then Apollo is a thought-provoking souvenir of human tenacity, creativity and achievement. If you don’t believe they put a man on the moon then Apollo is also for you. Read it and re-join the real world race for space.
APOLLO / WRITERS: MATT FITCH, CHRIS BAKER / ART: MIKE COLLINS / PUBLISHER: SELF-MADE HERO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW