Thought Bubble 2018: SelfMadeHero’s Apollo Panel With Mike Collins, Matt Fitch & Chris Baker

by Oliver MacNamee

Hosted by Jimmy Aquino of Comic News Insider, this fun Sunday lunchtime panel took a look at the recently released Apollo graphic novel from Self Made Hero by writers Matt Fitch, Chris Baker and artist, Mike Collins. This was clearly a book that as a labour of love for everyone involved and so we spent a pleasant hour hearing about its inception, its execution and its – cough, cough – launch.

Fitch got the ball rolling by stating that his dad had been a big fan of the Apollo space mission that saw the first men land on the moon. He was given a book on Neil Armstrong and when he finally got round to reading it, he was hooked on the fascinating story of Armstrong and his life beyond the NASA mission. When he and Baker met Collins at a comic con, Collins took the script to read “as a courtesy“, to find that he was gripped! He was sold and told the guys at 5am in the morning! Rather them than me at that time.

Mike Collins was a fan. But then, wouldn’t you be if you learnt one of the astronauts was also called Mike Collins? It turns out Collins was dedicated to the mission and had no problem with not being the first man to step foot on the moon. The astronaut that is, not the artist.

As the panel progressed, the guys turned their attention to the focus of the story and what they intentionally left out. This is a graphic novel that focuses on the mission first and foremost. But, in a bigger way, it’s also story of America at a time when anything was possible. An ambitious America that saw the birth of the Hippy movement while at the same time fighting a bloody, and ultimately, unsuccessful war in Vietnam. All of these culturally significant moments have a place in this book.

In hiring Collins, Fitch and Baker couldn’t have chosen more wisely. Mike told of a time in school, growing up in West Bromwich,  when he would stave off the bullies by drawing likenesses of Bruce Lee and other well known faces of the era. Seems he was always good at likenesses and sustaining those likenesses across a whole book. Using his work of Doctor Who (both as a current storyboard artist and previously as comic book artist too) he explained how he worked on such familiar faces. He never uses PR head shots, because the characters/actors are always smiling. After all, these are shots to promote the series. So, he uses screen grabs instead to capture their true likenesses and various emotive responses too. A handy tip for any would be artists out there.

As for the collaborative process, it would start with Finch and Baker conversing over the phone, divvying up the work, and then going back and forth until the script is done and no-one can remember who did want and when. But, on this project, Collins was a huge asset. With yards of experience in both comics and storyboarding, he was able to help with suggested page layouts and pacing. It seems that not only were the writers grateful, they learnt a lot too. See what mean by it being a labour of love? Not many books, I imagine, as as immersed in such collective collaboration as this one, which took 4 years to reach the shelves.

Addressing why they didn’t take on such them as the belief by some deluded people, even today, that the missions faked and directed by Stanley Kubrick, Mike Collins quipped, to everyone’s enjoyment, that “If Kubrick had shot it, Neil Armstrong would never have got his lines wrong,” referring to what Armstrong should have said and what he actually said, as well as a humorous nod to Kubrick’s perfectionism.

It was the last panel of the weekend for me, but one of the more enjoyable too. Looks like I’ve got my own mission now: go hunt down Apollo from SelfMadeHero soon.

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