“Behind all seen things lies something vaster; everything is but a path, a portal or a window opening on something other than itself. ” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Wind, Sand and Stars)
I officially sat down and started this project on exactly August 19th 1993, when I was 17 years old. Some of the places, faces and names were created long before I ever gave them a home in an epic story though. The project looked a lot different back then, and in fact, wasn’t even called Dawn Patrol. Still, I had a vague vision of what I was trying to achieve, if I could just learn to draw everything a lot better….
My art up until that point was mostly cartoons like Disney stuff and horses. I liked making animation flip books and dreamed I’d be a Disney animator some day. I avoided drawing anything technical, mechanical, and I had no idea how to draw human faces or figures. When it became clear that this story in my mind involved all of these elements, I knew I had a huge challenge ahead.
That was actually the easy part, learning to draw better. As the art progressed, I realized I had another problem…authenticity. I realized the only way I was ever going to give Dawn Patrol the detail, and credibility that it needed was to do some serious, immersive research. There’s nothing worse than watching a movie or reading a book and knowing the author had no idea about what they were writing, because the details were all glossed over, not highlighted, and the jargon was all wrong. You can’t write about flying if you don’t know how, in other words.
So I learned to fly.
I had to not just fly the small stuff. I needed to know how to fly the fast and high stuff. I needed to see what the stars looked like from 47,000 feet above the earth. I needed to see what sunrise looked like at near the speed of sound. I needed to know how all those avionics worked and what kind of glare they made on a curved windshield at night. I needed to see how it all worked in our world, so I could imagine how it might believably be done differently in another time and place.
But my years of being a professional Learjet pilot made it challenging to find time to draw the story that started the whole adventure in the first place. Most of what is now Dawn Patrol was drawn in hotels, cafes and libraries across North America, Canada, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
It had to be portable, and that’s just one reason why it’s in pencil, but the plan was always for it to be a pencil art project. Color is taken for granted and while computer art programs can do amazing things, I still miss old-fashioned hand drawn art. I always admired the art of Dave Stevens in the Rocketeer, and I admit that I referred to his amazing depiction of the human form more than once to help me when I was in a bad spot with a drawing.
Another reason for doing this in pencil is that Dawn Patrol began with sketches in the blank pages at the end of my school textbooks. I wanted to bring the art of plain old pencil back to center stage, not just a stage that gets inked and colored over. All of the art is drawn in an 8.5” x 11 sketch book with a mechanical drafting pencil, and a plastic eraser. I like the dichotomy of telling high tech story illustrated in a low-tech way.
The style and the quality has improved over the years, but I decided that I simply can’t keep re-doing pages. At some point, the art has to be good enough or this story will never get finished. The first chapter, now 36 pages, has been drawn and re-drawn 3 times in the past 19 years. All in all, there are about 200 pages of art in various stages of completion, from the pages up now, to new art coming soon as I re-draw old stuff.
I never was much of a sci-fi fan (kinda liked the original Star Trek though) and the only comic books I owned were Disney comics. When the idea of a “graphic novel” started to gain momentum underground in the early 90’s, I realized that this was the avenue I needed to take. I wanted to not just draw a serial with each page divided into boxes though. I wanted people to feel like they were watching a movie and really animate it somehow even though it would be single pages. Over several years, the style developed in its own unique way.
Dawn Patrol is not a story that goes where you think it’s going. That’s the whole point. It’s about crossing new boundaries, and discovering that what’s on the back side of the proverbial tapestry, that makes the reality on the front appear as it does.
It’s about falling head-first into a true destiny at the very moment all carefully-orchestrated plans and dreams are shattered.
One thing I hope to achieve, is to tell a story you haven’t heard before, and do it it a way that is original and authentic. It has elements that come from real life, real people and my own aviation career, spun together into a story that I’ve had in my head for half of my life.
There are no boundaries that can’t be crossed with the “perfect vehicle” such as the Astyrfel ship in Dawn Patrol. Having the story online as a graphic novel as opposed to an old fashioned published work is another such vehicle, able to reach an audience infinitely larger.
I plan to add new pages and chapters as I re-draw the old art and link it with the new. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the flight….the forecast is ceiling and visibility unlimited.