Graphic historian chronicles Apollo 11 lunar landing on its 50th anniversary

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  • Graphic novelist Jonathan Fetter-Vorm is pictured Tuesday morning at his studio in Somers. Fetter-Vorm is the author of “Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight.” (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Fetter-Vorm works on an illustration in his Somers studio. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Jonathan Fetter-Vorm draws in his Somers studio the morning of Tuesday, July 9. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

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    “Moonbound” is the third historic comic by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm.

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    A scene from “Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight” by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. (Courtesy of Jonathan Fetter-Vorm)

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    Jonathan Fetter-Vorm thoroughly researched the history of the Apollo 11 spaceflight for his graphic book “Moonbound.” (Courtesy of Jonathan Fetter-Vorm)

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    A scene from “Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight” by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. (Courtesy of Jonathan Fetter-Vorm)

  • Graphic novelist Jonathan Fetter-Vorm is pictured Tuesday morning at his studio in Somers. Fetter-Vorm is the author of “Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight.” (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Fetter-Vorm works on an illustration in his Somers studio. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 2

    Jonathan Fetter-Vorm draws in his Somers studio the morning of Tuesday, July 9. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 3

    “Moonbound” is the third historic comic by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm.

  • 4

    A scene from “Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight” by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. (Courtesy of Jonathan Fetter-Vorm)

  • 5

    Jonathan Fetter-Vorm thoroughly researched the history of the Apollo 11 spaceflight for his graphic book “Moonbound.” (Courtesy of Jonathan Fetter-Vorm)

  • 6

    A scene from “Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight” by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. (Courtesy of Jonathan Fetter-Vorm)

Fifty years ago, America sat back in awe as astronaut Neil Armstrong took man’s first steps on the moon.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” he famously declared.

The Apollo 11 lunar landing was a pinnacle moment in the Space Race against the USSR and a major achievement in a long line of Apollo-series missions.

The story of man’s journey to the moon has captivated audiences for generations and local illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm wants to ensure that story lives on.

Fetter-Vorm, 36, of Somers authored “Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight” — a 256-page illustrated book that takes a deep dive into the history and humanity behind the first crewed moon landing. On July 18, two days prior to the 50 year anniversary of the historic event, Fetter-Vorm will present on his history at Flathead Valley Community College library at 6:30 p.m.

“I like taking historical moments that are so big and so influential that we all feel like we already know what happened and then figuring out how to tell the stories that happened in the margins of those moments,” he said.

“Moonbound” is his third illustrated history — his first recounted the development of the atomic bomb and his second chronicled the Civil War.

Illustrating history allows him to examine significant time periods through a different lens — adding layers of personality and excitement to bring these stories to life.

“I want to try to make something that can educate a generation,” Fetter-Vorm said. “Each generation gets farther and farther from the actual event. I want to make this history feel not just real and interesting, but complicated and alive.”

His process begins with substantive information gathering and research. Then he’ll outline the text of the story in a script-like format before putting pencil, and later, ink to paper. Each scene is constantly refined as it progresses from sketch to ink to color and finally, onto his computer. It’s a time consuming process — for “Moonbound,” Fetter-Vorm spent 8,500 hours on the art alone.

Fetter-Vorm’s probe into American space exploration gave him an intimate understanding of the Apollo 11 mission and the team behind it. One of his favorite moments came just after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, July 20, 1969. The mission dictated that the astronauts take a five-hour nap, but they had other plans.

“When you’re on the moon for the first time, the last thing you’re going to want to do is take a nap before you go explore,” Fetter-Vorm said. “There’s this moment where they look at each other and call Houston — ‘We’re going to deviate from the mission. We’re going to get ready to go on the moon’ … and NASA lets them do it.”

To stay as true to history as possible, Fetter-Vorm created his dialogue using actual transcripts from the mission and referenced the astronaut’s memoirs for the in-between moments.

“The tape recorder on the lunar module that landed on the surface malfunctioned, so we only have the things the astronauts said to Houston,” he said. “[It’s] unfortunate because the stuff they said to each other is much more candid because they weren’t talking to the world.”

Some of his favorite scenes to draw included the large crowds assembling for the launch in Florida and calmer moments featuring the astronauts inside the lunar module.

He hopes his work will reach the next generation and perhaps leave them inspired by the wonder of spaceflight.

“I’m inspired by the audacity of it,” Fetter-Vorm said. “Every time I look at the moon and think that 12 people have walked on it, it boggles the mind. …It feels like the stuff of legend.”

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss can be reached at mreiss@dailyinterlake.com or (406) 758-4433.

Celebrate Apollo 11

Flathead Valley Community College will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing by hosting a talk with Fetter-Vorm at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 18, at the newly opened Broussard Family Library and Learning Commons. The event will also feature space-related activities organized by Code Girls United, Flathead Valley Rocket Rally and the FVCC Library. Attendees can participate in an Apollo 11 trivia, or experience space travel for themselves in the library’s virtual reality lab.

For more information about the event, contact FVCC Library Services Director, Susan Matter at (406) 756-3853 or smatter@fvcc.edu. To learn more about Fetter-Vorm’s work and to purchase his books, visit his website, www.fetter-vorm.com.

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