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Thursday, 3 February 2011

Graphic novel celebrates the life of world's first spaceman, Yuri Gagarin

Artist Andrew King and writer Piers Bizony have launched Yuri's Day, a new comic graphic novel dedicated to the first man in space, celebrating both his story and the origin of the Soviet space program.

Now, the Moscow Times, a newspaper for expats in Moscow, is looking for comments on the new comic, and you can view some sample pages here: www.yuri-gagarin.com/about. The plan is to publish opinions of it from English and Russian comic fans in the review.

Yuri's Day is the story of a man and his young protegĂ© who altered the course of history in 1961, even though the world knew almost nothing about them. The younger man’s great achievement, celebrated to this day, took him less than two hours to complete, yet required his courage and commitment over a period of years.

A happy and triumphant superstar at the age of 27, Yuri Gagarin's toughest challenge was to recover his sanity and self-respect in the glare of the global fame that came afterwards. Meanwhile, his protector and boss, Russia’s greatest rocket genius, Sergei Povlovich Korolev was forced into the shadows of obscurity by the State authorities.

In 1938 Russian aircraft engineer Korolev was developing simple rockets at an army laboratory in St. Petersburg when he fell victim to Stalin’s terror purge. He was beaten, then imprisoned in a freezing Siberian labour camp. Three years later, on the verge of death, he was ordered to Moscow. Hitler’s armies had invaded and Stalin suddenly needed engineers. In 1945 Korolev was sent into the German heartland, where he found to his dismay that Wernher von Braun’s V2 rocket bomb had already outstripped his wildest ambitions.

But by 1957 Korolev had created ‘Raketa-7,’ the first intercontinental ballistic missile. It was designed to drop nuclear bombs onto the United States, but Korolev knew it could also reach into space. On October 4, 1957 he launched Sputnik into orbit. A month later Sputnik II went up, carrying the dog Laika. Korolev then told the Red Army generals he could build a satellite to snoop on the West, but first he would have to enlist a pilot with excellent eyesight to look out of the satellite’s window and check on what the spy cameras might see. The generals believed him, and in October 1959 a squad of ‘cosmonauts’ was formed.

From among that small cadre of hopeful candidates, Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin was selected to become the world’s first human space voyager. The consequences of his successful flight are still being felt today.

In the wake of Gagarin’s triumph - and almost exclusively because of it - the United States felt compelled to bid for the moon. Korolev’s strength of personality enabled him to bend the clumsy Soviet industrial system to his own ends. The moon was his dream, too. Only in recent years has it become clear just how hard he (and other elements within the sprawling Russian rocket sector) really did try to beat Apollo to that famous lunar touchdown.

Korolev died at the age of 59 in 1966 during what should have been a routine stomach operation. He had designed Soyuz, Russia’s workhorse capsule which is still in use today. He had also embarked on a giant lunar booster, the N-1. After 1966 his legacy was in the hands of weaker administrators. Who knows what might have happened if he had lived a few more years?

As for Gagarin: had he lived a little longer, he would have become, to our generation, so much more than merely a famous name repeated in history classes.Yuri’s Day illustrates a merging of incredible events in comic style, teeling the story of the early Soviet space program in comic and text. The project is the work of artist Andrew King, who lectures on design history and theory to students on architecture, design and professional model making degrees; and written by Pieres Bizony, author of 2001: Filming the Future and The Man Who Ran the Moon, who has written about science, aerospace and cosmology for a wide variety of magazines in the UK and the US. (Bizony also helped create the Millennium Fund bid for the At-Bristol complex in the UK and created, wrote, picture-researched and project-managed  Space: 50, a major colour book collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and worldwide publishers HarperCollins, marking the 50th anniversary of Sputnik.

His recent project, Atom, a tie-in book for a BBC TV series, tells the dramatic story of the rivalries and passions at play during the discovery of quantum physics.

• More about the graphic novel at: www.yuri-gagarin.com

• View sample pages here: www.yuri-gagarin.com/about

• Post you comments here on downthethetubes (membership required): http://downthetubes.ning.com/forum/topics/comic-about-yuri-gagarin or post a comment below

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