With the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon quickly approaching, Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s new graphic novel Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Space couldn’t be more timely.
Fetter-Vorm’s new book is a smart, detailed exploration of how the dream of space travel has obsessed humanity over the eons while showing the steps it took to create the moon landing. His attention to detail is compelling and works well as an introduction to the history of space flight, spanning from Johannes Kepler to Jules Verne, from obscure Russian missile scientists to Verner Von Braun. In doing so, Fetter-Vorm touches on some of the major sociological events in which these men were involved.
Importantly, Fetter-Vorm also takes side trips to highlight the work women and African-Americans contributed to the exploration of space, especially during the time NASA was a key part of the space program. He delivers interesting anecdotes and provides important context to explain the racial and gender divides of the 1960s which help exclude women and non-whites from the space program. For instance, Fetter-Vorm depicts the fact of how NASA mainly chose white scientists because their facilities were in the South. He also tells a fascinating story about how women were hired as “computers”, literally people who computed numbers based on scientific research. In doing so, Fetter-Vorm introduces readers to Margaret Hamilton, who wrote all the computer code used pilot the space vehicles.
The author also takes pains to include the stories of the Russian space program in with the American stories, a nice touch which adds an important element to the tale. One of my favorite aspects of this book was when Fetter-Vorm shows how American Cold War propaganda deliberately ignored the considerable and impressive achievements of the Russians in space.
Juxtaposed with all this fascinating history is a step-by-step depiction of the moon landing. Rendered in color rather than in the single-color tones of the historical parts of the book, these sequences seem to pop from the page in technicolor brightness and absolute joy. If the historical parts of the book provide the brains of this story, the sequences about the moon landing provide its heart. Readers can practically see the exhilaration on the faces of the astronauts as they orbit then land on the moon, and we are swept along with that excitement.
Fetter-Vorm’s art and coloring are perfect for a book of this type, providing just the right amount of detail to highlight the events but leaving the reader to fill in some of the gaps. For instance, he appropriately draws the dark side of the moon as a completely black mystery, and many of his historical scenes eschew backgrounds in order to keep focus on the man story.
Moonbound is a historical drama which provides an excellent exploration and introduction to the American space program.