Yuri Gagarin - his story in pictures

Few events can truly be classed as Earth-shattering, but Yuri Gagarin’s ascent into space on 12 April 1961 is surely one of those moments.
 
There’s already been plenty written on Gagarin’s epic feat, and there will surely be plenty more to come. But I’ve never seen anything quite like Yuri’s Day: The Road To The Stars. A graphic novel iIllustrated by Andrew King, with able assistance from art director Peter Hodkinson and space historian Piers Bizony, it’s an account of the early part of the space race from the Soviet perspective.

 

 

Full disclosure: Piers Bizony is a frequent contributor to Sky at Night Magazine and, let it also be said, an authority on all things rocket-related. I’ll also admit I know as much about graphic novels as I do about gardening. Just as there are plants in my garden that simply happen to be there, my knowledge of acclaimed graphic novels like Watchmen and V for Vendetta begins and ends with the film versions. Call me snobbish, but I’ve always preferred my text uninterrupted by cartoons.

 
But Yuri’s Day is superb. Once I’d turned the first page I couldn’t stop, from rocket scientist Sergei Korolev being hauled off to a prison camp during Stalin’s purges to Gagarin’s tragic death in a plane accident.
 
A word of warning: this is a graphic novel that lives up to its name in places. Korolev is brutally beaten in the prison camp, while his colleague Marshal Tukhachevsky is shot in the head. Both are depicted, which would surely give young children nightmares. Then again, living in a prison camp can't have been too much fun either.
 
The monochrome artwork brings the story to life brilliantly. Rockets blast into the sky and mission controllers look on with a mixture of worry and determination. In the middle of it all, Gagarin himself is serene – the calm at the centre of an enveloping storm.

 

 

The graphic novel’s 65 pages will tell you almost as much about the Soviet space pioneers as reading whole books on the subject (although I can heartily recommend Red Moon Rising, which reads like a real-life thriller).

And when you’ve turned the last page, perhaps wiping away a tear at the prophetic words Yuri uttered from orbit, you can admire the final, fold-out spread – detailed technical drawings of the R-7 rocket and the Vostok capsule that put him there.
 

You've probably gathered by now that I love Yuri's Day. But for the fact that I needed some sleep, I would have turned back to the start and read it all over again. But I'm left with a question: why can't there be graphic novels on astronomy?

Gagarin's is a dramatic story, to be sure, but I can think of plenty of interesting astronomers that would make great graphic novels: Galileo, Copernicus and Fred Hoyle to name but three. Or how about Patrick Moore? So here's my promise to Andrew, Peter and Piers - you make 'em, I'll read 'em.

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