"...she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.
In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out."
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Alice and I have a lot in common.
Carefully I creep up to what looks to be a small rabbit hole. It started with joining the Wing Walkers, a 20 year old (virtual) combat squadron. Early on it was clear my graphic skill far outpaced my flying skill (which is still the case by the way) so I start making maps for online events and dabbling in mission building. Once you start studying the maps and the geography you can't help but be lured into the history. Is the virtual world I experience accurate? What was it like to be a combat pilot during World War I ? My book shelves started filling up with titles like "Open Cockpit", "Winged Victory" and "Hornet's Sting".
Leaning deeply over, I suddenly slip in! My new focus on aviation history has me poking at memories about my own family. When my grandfather was a young boy his family moved to Los Angeles in the early 1900's. I remember when I got a job at an ice cream shop he told me he used to be "a soda jerk" too and that "he used to sell ice cream at airshows, cold as hell. Like trying to sell ice cubes to eskimos." I start researching early airshows in California and discovered that the very first airshow in the United States occurred in 1910 in Los Angeles in Dominguez Field and was held in middle of winter (see the poster art above). I'm guessing he was there.
I pick up speed as I hurtle down in total darkness. Later on my brother forwards me a few snapshots he found in an old family photo album that includes a series of images of zeppelins and what looks like a German bomber ( see above). I post the picture online trying to identify what type of German bomber it is. The breakthrough comes when a regular poster on the site (WomenFly2, who also builds WWI replica aircraft from scratch) points me towards the opening trailer of Howard Hughes's film Hell's Angels. In the trailer the German bomber, tinted dark blue, bursts through the smoke. The distinctive skull with an arrow through the eye is a clear match.
I'm lost in it now, and like Alice, I never considered how I would ever get out. Sure enough this is the "German bomber" in my picture. I research deeper and find that it was actually a prototype S-29a transport plane designed by Igor Sikorsky, the only one of its kind, which was eventually sold to Howard Hughes for use in his film. A lot of the aerial scenes were filmed just outside of the Van Nuys airport, a short trip from my grandfather's home. I watch the film online and realize that in the film's storyline the plane is used by the British pilot Monte Rutledge to make a bold sneak attack on a German munitions dump but is shot down by Manfred von Richthofen. I read about the making of the film and discover that the plane was actually destroyed and the pilot killed during the making of the movie.
So let me recap here...my family member posed in front of a fake German bomber that was actually the only model of an airplane designed by a famous Russian aviation engineer shortly before it was destroyed during the filming of one of the most famous combat aviation films of all time made by Howard Hughes?
Whaaaat!!!....That's the Rabbit Hole!
Click on the images below to explore my squad's websites as well as some of the current sims we are flying (use your browser back button to return to this website).
First came the "WWHFA Comics"....
As a member of the Wing Walkers I was trying to organize flying events and started creating graphic "teasers" to draw flyers in to participate. We started a campaign called the "Wing Walker's High Flying Adventures" with two other squads ( The Black Haze and The Old Fokkers). I learned that the flight sim had a "record" function that would allow you to record actual flying events. After the action was over, much like a movie producer in the film room, I would spend hours pouring over the footage to find interesting dogfights. I started building stories around the images and creating comic books as a version of an AAR (after action report) for the mission we all participated in. This went on for about ten missions and I am frightened to look back now at how many hours I spent putting these together.
In the three examples below you can see the evolution of the graphics. In the first example (Chapter 2) I was using Power Point. In the second example (Chapter 3) I started using the Comic Life software and Photoshop Elements to create a faux comic book look. By the final example ( Chapter 9) I began to focus on the storytelling. The dogfights in the mission were worked in but the story took on a life of its own. I was not particularly respectful of copy right rules in this example, shamelessly using Google Images to grab whatever images I could find on the internet to fit the storyline.
Click on the images below to view the comics (these are large files between 3 and 20 megs). Use your browser back button to return to this website)
Then came "The Bloody April Journal"....
I signed up to participate in The Bloody April Campaign put on by Jasta5 every year. I was growing weary of this elaborate process of recording missions, editing to get to screenshots and using Photoshop and Google Images to complete the story. I fell upon the idea of a soldier's journal. I was also experimenting with drawing on an iPad so I used Paper by Studio 53 and developed the sketches. I drew from real events during the mission and published the journal after each mission on the campaign forum. This approach freed me up to create my own images, but because I was using a stylus and a program that had no erase feature, the sketches had to be very loose. Not exactly a graphic novel, but it was a lot of fun. By the way if you read the story below, I did accidently steal the Captain's Pup during one event and he was very angry with me.
Click on the images below to view the Prologue, the Journal and the Epilogue (These are large files between 1 and 10 megs). Use your browser back button to return to this website.
And finally a real World War I Ace's Journal....
I struggled with drawing digitally and focused on better software and fancy stylus pens. I flirted with the idea of doing a graphic novel based on the novel "The Blue Max" by Jack D. Hunter. The results were frustrating. I realized I didn't have the talent or the time to turn myself into a real comic book artist.
I subscribe to Air & Space Magazine and in September 2014 I ran into an article that changed my whole perspective.
They published images of Zenos Ramsey Miller's journal. He was an Ace that flew with the 27th Aero Squadron. His journal was beautifully photographed and the tattered pages were filled with sketches, photographs, even receipts from restaurants. He was not novelist, but he wrote. He was not artist, but he sketched. He was not a professional photographer but he took pictures. And he did it all with an ink fountain pen, no fancy digital stylus! This discovery made me realize that I was trying way too hard. I could simulate a soldier's journal right now with the skills I already had.
That was the beginning of "Rupp's Skizzenbuch". Here is a link to the article in Air and Space Magazine.
So I continue down the rabbit hole, with no end in sight and no desire to return. I hope to emerge in Winter 2018 with a completed project to share with you all.
© 2016 thomas emme all rights reserved