Making a graphic novel 11: 1955 Tyuratem, Kazakhstan

Ah trains! Here I am on safe ground… except that Tyuratam junction which became the depot for the construction of the Baikonur cosmodrome, was a very remote spot indeed. I could find some picture reference for the general style of buildings, and the fact that it was a locomotive depot meant it would have a water tower. Events in the dialogue (quoted from a contemporary source) meant it also had to have had a telegraph office. Putting the whole scene in ‘long-shot’ meant that detail (and therefore, wrong guesses) could be kept to a minimum.  Tyuratam, Kazakhstan – Vladimire Barmin

These events were taking place just about the same time diesel was replacing steam on railways the world over. At the top of the page steam is the norm, but in the last two frames, the diesels are clearly taking over.

Of course, the great thing about trains, is the opportunity they give for long perspectives . . .

As I researched this scene further, I became fascinated by the litany of names and military unit titles involved. Incorporating them into the dialogue helped to give a sense of the huge scale of the operation and the range of expertise needed.

The lemmings were quite a shock. I was not expecting lemmings! That the Khazakhstan desert was full of them was only a minor inconvenience, the real problem they presented the Soviets with was much more sinister: They were a key vector of transmission for bubonic plague. In fact research was beginning to show that this very population of lemmings may well have been the original source from which successive waves of ‘The Black Death’ had swept through mediaeval Europe. Disinfecting them was vital to survival, as well as to success.

A lemming is a bit difficult to draw. A kind of giant guinea-pig, they lack much in the way of distinctive characteristics. After a few attempts however, I think I managed to create some reasonably convincing ones.

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