‘Life on the Moon’: Inside Robert Grossman’s Historical Graphic Novel
History and fantasy join forces for Life on the Moon, the debut graphic novel by illustrator Robert Grossman. Grossman, who died last year at the age of 78, was a longtime Rolling Stone cover artist and creator of the iconic poster for 1980’s Airplane!
Published by Yoe Books earlier this summer, Life on the Moon is a historical yet humorous book that deviates from the traditional graphic novel in that a single illustration with accompanying text makes up each of the 400 pages. The plot is loosely based on the 1835 Great Moon Hoax, in which New York newspaper The Sun published six articles falsely reporting the discovery of life on the moon. The articles were written by Dr. Andrew Grant, a supposed colleague of the famous astronomer Sir John Herschel. Grant reported that Herschel had witnessed creatures on the moon — magical unicorns, human-like bats, beavers and bison — all from his telescope in Cape Town, South Africa.
The Sun articles were obviously false, but Grossman was fascinated with the story. “Dad had always been enchanted by space travel and the Moon,” his son Alex Emanuel Grossman tells Rolling Stone. He began working on a graphic novel in 2005, setting it in a time where “many of the signal achievements of the Nineteenth century still lay well in the future, Andrew Jackson was president, the steamboat was the summit of technology, and news traveled slowly.”
“My father described Life on the Moon as having, among other things, ‘Touches of Hansel and Gretel and Paradise Lost,'” Alex says. “It was also, simply, the culmination of so much of that which had interested him his entire life: He was a diehard New Yorker after all, and his sardonic sense of humor and vivid imagination is well documented, but he was also a dedicated student of history; a virtual walking encyclopedia as those who knew him can attest to. That he knew of the ‘most successful newspaper hoax ever’ was par for the course.”
Grossman illustrated countless covers for Rolling Stone, including the gleeful Jerry Garcia image for the November 1973 issue and the June 1977 issue of Crosby, Stills and Nash. However, he is best known for his political covers, most famously his 2006 illustration of George Bush wearing a dunce cap. Grossman would go on to freelance for other publications, designing over 500 covers the New York Times, New York, National Lampoon, Sports Illustrated and others. “I don’t think cartoons are ever ‘for’ anything,” he told the New York Times in 2008. “The idea is to ridicule everything, although you are free to guess for whom I am likely to vote when the time comes.”
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