Thursday, July 16, 2009

Walters, writing the story

When I finally settled on the story of Larry Walters, I knew one thing for sure, in every possible way I meant this re-telling as a tribute to his life. It was a crazy idea, who would have ever thought something like this was possible? Yet Larry did. Is it cliché to say that Larry followed his dreams? He did, he followed his dreams, how else do you say it? -- He wanted to fly his whole life but couldn't be pilot (you'll see why below) but why is that cliché? Maybe the phrase is but certainly the actual act isn't. As Larry said when he was arrested, "A man can't just sit around." What on earth has to be cliché about going out there and doing something awesome? He had a dream and he made it happen. That's a million times over what most of us ever do. A few years later Larry was quoted as saying,

"It was something I had to do. I had this dream for twenty years, and if I hadn't done it, I think I would have ended up in the funny farm. I didn't think that by fulfilling my goal in life — my dream — that I would create such a stir and make people laugh."

There's nothing cliché about that. It's incredibly admirable.

Yes, I did a lot of research and tried to find the facts and yes, some of them are conflicting. Some say he soared to 11,000 feet, some 16,000. There aren't exactly any books about the event but there is some information to be found online. Those facts weren't as interesting to me, I don't care if it was 15,000 feet or 16,000. The complete story however is simply amazing.

Larry couldn't be a pilot due to his extremely poor eyesight but he always wanted to fly. He got the idea to fly when he was thirteen. He saw some weather balloons in an Army/Navy store and twenty years later he bought 45 weather balloons and tied them to a lawn chair. Larry intended to rise a hundred feet, hang out, and then shoot some balloons and sink gently back down. What actually happened was much more startling. Upon release, he climbed approximately 1,000 feet a minute; that's 16 feet a second. What really gets me is that this man who had very poor eyesight LOST HIS GLASSES almost instantly. That is terrifying to me. Larry reached an altitude of approximately 15,000 feet. He traveled from San Pedro to Long Beach airport and flew around 45 minutes before crash landing in some power lines near LAX. He was then arrested.

The thing that caught me instantly about Larry's story was losing the glasses. The glasses were the thing that kept him from what he wanted, to be a pilot. And to loose them so soon in his flight... What on earth must he have seen up there?

I wanted to use the skeleton of the story as a platform to springboard off and explore episodes Larry's youth, his relationship to the sky, and his relationship to his glasses.

Yes, Walters is about Larry's story but it's a fictional and fantastical retelling of the story. I've taken many liberties in the telling. It's meant to be a piece of period fiction, historical fiction, if you can count the 1980s as a "period." I mean it as an homage to an incredibly inspiring person (he even named his lawn chair "Inspiration I") and I hope you'll enjoy. The episodes told in flashbacks, and in the sky are completely fictional. The only real truths are that a man named Larry flew a lawn chair and what breaks my heart is that he killed himself several years later.

* * *

When I write out a visual story, doing storyboards for animation or something like Walters, a graphic novel, I write everything out. I scribble this and that and walk my way through the story in sentences before I ever start to draw. I don't know how other people work but this is the best way for me.

The story I found after working for several evenings, put simply, is this : It's the morning of the flight, and Larry remembers pivotal moments in his childhood that have lead him here. He then takes off and confronts the sky.

* * *

I knew two things for sure; I wanted the sky to be as much of a character as Larry and the glasses would be an incredibly important element. The glasses were (obviously) what kept Larry from his dream but when they were off what was it like?

I imagined it to be a violent and aggressive world without the protection of his glasses. This takes the form of the sky when Larry's glasses fall off in a moment in childhood (in my story.) As if his whole life the sky had been trying to catch him, allure him, and wanted to keep him.

There is something up in the sky, and we'll meet both sides of the sky a little more in depth in the next post.

Next post, writing the story in pictures / dislocative disaster strikes!


Jonah said...

What a great idea for a Graphic Novel. I have always found this particular event quite interesting, including the Mythbusters episode about it. A movie that you might find interesting, if you haven't seen it, is Danny Deckchair. It was obviously "inspired" by Larry's adventure. Looking forward to seeing this develop

michelle said...

Thanks for sharing your process! (It has inspired me to get cracking on a story I'd like to write and illustrate!) Your work is absolutely amazing, and love visiting your site. Have fun at the comic-con this year!!! and hope your shoulder gets better :(