J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Publishing Freedom: “The printed page is paramount.”

Here’s the fourth installment of my interview with Seamus Heffernan, whose new comic Freedom promises an epic look at a Revolutionary America that never was.

B75: I didn’t expect Freedom to be so BIG. For $7.00, one gets 64 oversized (8" x 12") pages of story, plus extra illustrations. Was that the format you initially imagined? Did you ever plan to publish it all on the web?

SH: Actually, I had originally planned to publish it as a broadsheet sized “newspaper”. It was going to be 11"x17" and folded up, with some kind of card-stock folio-cover to keep it in. It turned out to be difficult to find a printer who could do that cost-effectively, and it turned out to not be the best format for stores either.

On abandoning that format, I tried to settle on something close to it, but also closer to the traditional comic-book format. I went to the rare book room in the Boston Public Library to see if there were any smaller pamphlets or broadsheets printed at during the colonial period and tried to line my project up with those dimensions. The 8"x12" did the best job of letting the dense line work breathe while not being too cumbersome. I’m sure there will be many vendors out there who will disagree with me on that.

I never planned to publish it on the web, and perhaps I am a fool for doing so, but I’m doing my best to make this project reminiscent of the revolutionary era, so the printed page is paramount.

B75: Freedom is one of the (I believe) second-to-last set of Xeric Foundation grantees. For folks outside the comics world, what does that mean?

SH: The Xeric Grant is a charitable grant set up by one of the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Peter Laird. It is a grant to help aspiring comics artists start their career as self-publishers by funding the printing and promotion of a creator’s work. Your work has to be finished (in other words, they won’t give you a stipend to live off of while you work on your book full-time), and it has to be approved by six jury members. I was very fortunate in that they liked Freedom No. 1 so much they gave me twice the money I had asked for!

Sadly, the Xeric is closing its doors to funding self-publishers as the comics market has changed dramatically. With the advent of web comics and Kickstarter (now considered one of the largest independent comics publishers because of how many projects gets funded through them), I think they felt that their grant was no longer suited to today’s trends in publishing. The final Xeric Grant deadline is May 2012, so if you have a project you want funding for…better wrap it up!
B75: When I showed Freedom to the Boston Comics Roundtable, one detail that caught a lot of people’s eyes was your style for emphasized lettering—not just bigger, bold letters but serif as well. What other ways are you working to give Freedom an eighteenth-century feel?

SH: Like I said above, I tried to print the book in a format that would evoke an eighteenth-century publication. I’ve always felt that lettering does as much as art style to develop the flavor of a story. Its importance is often overlooked in modern comics (especially with the rise of digital lettering, which I kind of regard as a carnal sin), so I made certain to use typefaces that would have been prevalent during my story’s period. I studied a lot on how typesetting was done in those days, and tried to design text pages to match how pamphlets, flyers, broadsheets and books would have been laid out.

The cover is also meant to reflect the period, as will all the covers to come on future issues. Each cover will be a faux historical oil painting, mostly in the Enlightenment or Romantic traditions. I also do my best to write in the over-wrought, floral style of the day, even when just doing acknowledgements or section breaks.

TOMORROW: The question that must be asked.


Peter Ansoff said...

Naturally, I'm curious about some of the symbolism that the Patriots seem to have adopted in this alternate universe. One of the clips on the comic's web site seems to show a flag with a rattlesnake surrounded by 5-pointed stars, and there are several references to the "Liberty Eagle". In the real timeline, the eagle was not commonly used as an American symbol during the Revolution; it actually had negative associations with European monarchies.

John L. Smith said...

"Freedom" sounds fascinating! Thanks, J.L., for bringing it to light!

J. L. Bell said...

More on the Liberty Eagle tomorrow! Freedom, #1, raises more questions than answers, but I suspect the five stars and the emergence of the eagle are linked to the straits the Patriots have found themselves in.

G. Lovely said...

I trust it he considers it a 'cardinal' not 'carnal' sin!

J. L. Bell said...

I don't know. Some artists still consider computerized lettering an affront against nature!

Seamus Heffernan said...

True enough, digital lettering is an affront to the natural order of things.