News / London

Guns, murder and a family link: London cartoonist Diana Tamblyn getting noticed

A true story of intrigue, giant guns and assassination is getting London artist Diana Tamblyn noticed.

She’s just landed a prestigious nomination for Canada’s Joe Schuster Awards for her book, From the Earth To Babylon: Gerald Bull and the Supergun.

Tamblyn, who describes herself as a cartoonist, is the writer and illustrator of the biography, in graphic novel form, of Gerald Bull, the Canadian engineer who developed a “supergun” for Saddam Hussein’s government. Bull was shot dead at the door of his apartment in Brussels, Belgium, in 1990.

“I think it’s the best work I’ve done in my life,” said Tamblyn, who’s 42 and lives in London with her husband and nine-year-old daughter.

It’s hard to argue with that, after the first volume of the work was shortlisted in the self-published books category of Canada’s comic book Oscars, the Gene Day Award. It took Tamblyn five years to finish the book, including meticulous research and time spent with Bull’s family in Quebec. Volume two is now under way, and expected in two to three years.

Gerald Bull, who was born in North Bay, Ont., remains a controversial figure. He was a ballistics engineer with dreams of sending satellites and other equipment into orbit using giant guns. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, governments across the world had other ideas about how his research might be applied.

He worked for various countries including the U.S. and China, but the trouble really started when he designed the Project Babylon supergun for Iraq during the late '80s, in a region torn apart by conflict. Bull also worked on Iraq’s Scud missiles, which became infamous during the U.S.-led action in Kuwait in 1990-91.

His death, which remains unsolved, has been blamed on agents for Iran and Israel.

The story fascinated Tamblyn, in part because she has a family connection to Bull. Her grand-aunt was Bull’s personal secretary when he worked in Quebec.

“I grew up hearing stories about him and she only spoke about him in the most loyal, loving terms,” Tamblyn said. “But when he’s spoken of in the media he’s portrayed as a Faustian character who sold his soul.

“He worked for China and Saddam Hussein, kind of the worst despots, and may have been naïve to how his technology was used.

“I grew up thinking, how could this family man, who was the best boss and could be charming and sweet, also be this other guy?”

As for that award nomination, it was “totally unexpected” for Tamblyn, who’s the digital marketing manager for London company Trojan Technologies.

“It’s really nice,” she said. “I’m quite pleased about it. It’s nice when you’re not anticipating anything.”

There’s more information about the 88-page book, including how to buy it, on Tamblyn’s blog. The winners of the Joe Schuster Awards will be announced this fall.