Making a graphic novel 6: Ships & sliderules

As the outline of the story began to take shape I quickly realised that picture research was going to be a massive part of the job. In an ordinary book, you can describe everything in words. In a graphic book, as in a movie, you have to populate a whole world, not just with people and events, but with cars and trucks and trains and planes and boats and buildings and countryside and hats and clothes and hairstyles . . .  the list goes on to the horizon – literally.

tupolev with korolev and tsiolkovsky space philosopher
My daily routine quickly settled into a morning spent on picture research and an afternoon on drawing. Sometimes, though, a well-stocked mind can be a big help. For Korolev’s dramatic journey back to Moscow, only the truck, a Soviet copy of an American Ford model, was based on picture research.

As far as I could tell, only two ships served the port Korolev used to leave Siberia at that time, and I didn’t find a picture of either of them. Fortunately a mis-spent youth poring over the Boys Own Annual, Meccano Magazine and Tintin comics meant that I could pull an old-style ‘Island-bridge’ style freighter ship from memory that would probably not be too far off the mark. It was a pity I had to sink it – I was quite pleased with that ship!

More recently I spent some years teaching in a technical college alongside a bunch of guys who had worked for the British aircraft industry as technical draftsmen. Their heavy old drawing boards with ‘parallel-motion’ rulers mounted on cables and pulleys were pretty much right for the time. Having often used them myself, I could draw them from memory.

The draftsman on Korolev’s left in the final frame of this page is using an object that is vary rarely seen these days, but was once seldom out of the hands of scientists, engineers and technicians. It is a slide-rule, a kind of analogue calculator using calibrated sliding scales. A skilled user could do complex calculations on these quite rapidly. During my wanderings through the internet, looking for pictures, I even found an image of Korolev’s own personal slide-rule, now in the collection of Texan billionaire Ross Perot.

sergei korolev's sliderule

This entry was posted in Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Making a Graphic Novel, Sergei Korolev, The Book. Bookmark the permalink.

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