Sketching up: Graphic novel shows how the Brooklyn Bridge was built

Sketching up: Graphic novel shows how the Brooklyn Bridge was built
Swing high: An engineer demonstrates the strength of the wire cables stretched between the towers in a scene from “The Bridge” graphic novel.
Sara DuVall

He’s written a book that spans the years!

A comic book writer has turned from superheroics to history, penning a graphic novel about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and the true story behind the husband-and-wife duo who raised the steel. Writer Peter Tomasi, best known for writing about heroes Green Lantern and Batman and Robin, said that he was drawn to the story of Washington and Emily Roebling when he first heard about it in the 1990s, but he was spurred to write “The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York” by the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

“I ended up discovering the Brooklyn Bridge and its history, and it was more dramatic than I could’ve possibly imagined — an epic American story, wrapped in a love story,” said Tomasi. “There was this destruction all around us [in 2001], especially as New Yorkers, and I wanted to write a story about hope and construction — about building. It just made me stop procrastinating and say ‘Let me write this now and get it made.’ ”

The book details the tragedies and triumphs of the 13-year construction of the bridge, including the illness and injuries facing both Washington and the workers who finished the bridge under Emily’s direction, and ends with the celebration of its completion — an enormous feat for the time, according to Tomasi.

“When you think about it in that period of time, the amount of construction and amazing engineering, it was really like going to the moon in 1870,” he said.

Bridge bard: Comic book writer Peter Tomasi stands in front of the Brooklyn Bridge, about which he wrote a 200-page graphic novel titled “The Bridge.”
Peter Tomasi

Tomasi relied on newspapers for research, and also trekked upstate to consult the Roebling archive at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where Washington Roebling studied, to examine the couple’s letters and journals. The research process helped put him in the mindset of the period, he said.

“That really helped a lot — being able to go through the archives and go through boxes and boxes of materials,” he said. “You feel like you’re a citizen of New York in the late 1800s — you’re kind of going along for the ride. You know the bridge is up, but you’re on the journey to make the bridge.”

After writing the story as a screenplay, Tomasi eventually turned it into a form he was more familiar with — a 200-page comic book, recruiting illustrator Sara DuVall to bring the characters to life on the page. DuVall said they studied the Roeblings extensively, and practiced drawing the bridge almost constantly during the year-and-a-half drawing period.

“I was just able to bring the characters to life in my own way — by the end I was so familiar with this story that I couldn’t imagine a time where I didn’t know every single thing about these people, and I could draw the bridge in my sleep,” they said.

“The Bridge” is available in bookstores now. $24.99.

Artist’s eye: Illustrator Sara DuVall brought the grandeur of the Brooklyn Bridge to the pages of “The Bridge” graphic novel.
Sara DuVall

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.

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