Making a graphic novel 7: BOVINES & BIPLANES

Soviet Polikarpov PO2 biplane

Cows. Who would have thought cows would get a walk-on part in this tale? And what sort of cows were the Soviets herding in the 1940s? One more reason why, before the internet, it would have taken half a lifetime to research the images in this book. Now, it takes me just half an hour to learn about the heavy-duty variant of Friesians developed by Soviet agricultural scientists – and there are even pictures. Yuri Gagarin formative WW2 experiences

Anna Gagarina was an educated woman and on the collective farm her role would have been much like that of a modern dairy-herd manager on a big milk-producing farm. What did she wear for field work? At this point in history, with women becoming more emancipated by the revolution, it may well have been trousers. I gave her a heavy woollen skirt on the assumption that she might sometimes have adopted the traditional work clothes of the Russian countryside. I also guessed that, as in most farming families, the children would be expected to help out when not in school.

The cows provide a peaceful moment before we return to the war, but the emphasis now is on formative experiences in Yuri’s early life. One of the most important of these is his encounter with a downed pilot.
Polikarpov PO2 model biplane kit
Here the models came into their own, and once again I was reverting to childhood, as, finished kit in hand, I restaged the Yak fighter’s bumpy landing in soft ground. I imagined that one undercarriage leg might have caught in a hollow and collapsed, tipping the plane onto its nose, bending one wing and the propellor blades. Having worked out a sequence of events for the crash, I posed the model on a baseboard, bending the relevant parts, and was then able to choose the exact angle I wanted to show for both frames.


Yak fighter plane WW2

Yak fighter plane

The little Po2 biplane that comes to ferry the downed pilot back to base was also a plastic kit, but it was rather more difficult to find than the Yak. In the end I tracked one down – an actual Soviet-era model kit, produced in Czechoslovakia.

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