You know a lot about the moon landing, right?
You know that 50 summers ago, the Apollo 11 mission rocketed three men into outer space.
You know that Neil Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he bounced off the lunar module onto the surface of the moon.
You know that Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted a flag on the moon before coming home from the first successful trip to the moon in human history.
But author and illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm says there’s actually a lot you don’t know about the July 1969 moon landing and the events leading up to it. Fetter-Vorm, a Flathead Valley native who lives in Somers, just finished his third graphic novel titled “Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spacelight,” released this summer just in time for the mission’s 50th anniversary. Fetter-Vorm’s work has appeared in Slate and The New York Times, and he has completed two other graphic novels on the Civil War and the development of the first atomic bomb.
“I love to revisit moments in history that are so monumental that it feels as if we already know everything about them,” Fetter-Vorm said. “I like to reexamine those events.”
Fetter-Vorm spent two years researching, writing and illustrating “Moonbound.” Much the source material came directly from NASA, which has an expansive record of the moon mission. Fetter-Vorm said there were aspects of the moon-landing story, both large and small, that surprised him. For one, he said he was unaware of how the Apollo mission used technology developed by scientists from Nazi Germany, specifically Wernher von Braun, who was an SS officer and Nazi party member.
The author was also surprised to learn that NASA had originally planned for Armstrong and Aldrin to take a five-hour nap after they landed on the moon but before they left the lunar module. The idea was that they would have been awake for 20 hours upon landing on the moon and they would need to rest before the pinnacle of the mission. Fetter-Vorm said on paper that made sense to an engineer, but it didn’t take into account the excitement the astronauts would feel on the surface of the moon. Fetter-Vorm said Armstrong and Aldrin quickly scrapped the plan.
Fetter-Vorm said he does a significant amount of research before writing something similar to a movie script with dialogue and notes detailing what will appear in each part of the story. Once that’s complete, he begins drawing illustrations.
“It’s a layering process,” he said. “You’re constantly refining your material.”
Fetter-Vorm said he’s been drawing all his life but it wasn’t until college when he turned the text of Beowulf into a comic that he realized the power of graphic novels.
“That’s when I realized I could use the medium to tell stories that were not just about superheroes,” he said.
He later moved to New York, where he established himself as a graphic novel illustrator. A few years ago, he moved back to the Flathead. He’s not sure what his next project will be, noting that it’s important to find the right topic to which he will dedicate five years of work.
Fetter-Vorm will give a reading from his book at Flathead Valley Community College on July 18 at 6:30 p.m. The event is taking place at the Broussard Family Library and Learning Center on campus and is free to the public.