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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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Seamus Heffernan’s Freedom: The Inspiration

Freedom is a new Revolutionary-era comic from writer-artist Seamus Heffernan.

I’m looking at page 6 of the first issue, and I recognize the center of Boston right away. The spires of the Town House (now the Old State House) and the First Meetinghouse of the Rev. Dr. Charles Chauncy look much as they do in Henry Pelham and Paul Revere’s famous engravings of the Boston Massacre.

But this full-page picture is captioned “The Colony of Massachusetts / June 2nd, 1779.” And the royal emblems are still up on the State House, though they’re looking poorly.

As its webpage explains, Freedom is set in “Massachusetts two years after the Americans lost the Revolutionary War.”

So this fictional Boston is still under British army rule, and Patriots hang in effigy instead of Tories. But there’s an underground insurgency. And a teenager named Adam Farr is caught in the middle.

For the next few days I’m running my interview with comics creator Seamus Heffernan about Freedom.

B75: How did you decide to tell a comics story set in Revolutionary Boston? Any particular inspirations?

SH: The idea to do a comic set during the Revolutionary War first popped up during a critique in an art class at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. The class was focused on the ideas of myth, heroes and monsters.

During the “heroes” segment of the class I started thinking about our own country’s heroes, the often mythical way their stories are relayed, and our then current situation on the world stage (this was back in 2005 when we were hot and heavy into the war on terror). I made a huge, romantic (and in hindsight, quite awful) painting called “The Boston Tea Party (The Martyrdom of Samuel Adams)” in which Sam Adams was depicted carrying out a suicide bombing on the East India Company ship while a gathering of founding fathers looked on from the docks; full of sadness, honor and pride.

It was meant to be an over-the-top fictional retelling of an actual event, but when I presented the work to the class, at least two-thirds of the students were unimpressed and confused as to why I had just made a boring historical painting. I believe some even thought I had just copied some Romantic-era painter. They all thought my depiction was ACTUALLY what happened.
[Click on the image for a larger look at this mythological history painting.]

I realized then just how close history and mythology were, and became fascinated with the idea of using the history of the American Revolution to try and explore that boundary. So while wrapping up art school I did a couple short stories playing with the idea of a fictional American Revolution while I let the big ideas soak in and form the foundation of what would eventually become Freedom.

TOMORROW: Researching a history that never quite happened.

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