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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Monday, April 06, 2015

Rebels Writer in Bellingham, 11 Apr.

On Saturday, 11 April, Friendly Neighborhood Comics in Bellingham will host a signing by Brian Wood, writer and co-creator of the new comic book series Rebels, set during the Revolutionary War.

Wood has written many types of comics, including the franchises X-Men, Conan the Barbarian, and Star Wars and such originals as DMZ. The antecedent for this magazine is Northlanders, in which he told stories of Vikings from different periods in European history. Rebels will likewise be a series of adventures, not necessarily connected, about the Revolutionary War.

The store sent me an “ashcan” preview of twelve pages from the first issue. The draftsmanship by Andrea Mutti and coloring by Jordie Bellaire are top-notch. Unfortunately, Mutti didn’t draw late-eighteenth-century faces and clothing. There are great gobs of facial hair on the men, and no stays or caps on the women.

Likewise, the historical grounding for the story is shaky. Wood is a Vermont native, so it’s natural for him to launch the series with a story from that part of America. But that story doesn’t come close to reflecting what actually happened. In a Previews interview, Wood said:
One phrase I came across early in my research is “America’s first militia,” which refers to the Green Mountain Boys, a pivotal group early in the war for independence. I think that’s a great hook, a way to tie history to current events, a way to look at both the present and the past. So much of current political maneuvering is justified by this history.
If we narrow the meaning of “militia” to how it appears in today’s American politics, for a self-selected group of men running around the woods with guns and questionable legal papers because they feel disempowered by the society around them, then yes, the Green Mountain Boys could be the “first militia.” But if we use that term historically, then we should say that America had militias from the start of British settlement. They were an institution in colonial society, established by law, officially answering to governors and functioning as arms of the community.

The story in Rebels, #1, starts with the hero’s heavily bearded father making him shoot at British regulars in the Vermont woods in 1768. That didn’t happen. It couldn’t have happened because the Crown didn’t use its army to deal with the long, vexing dispute between its New York and New Hampshire colonies over the land west of the Connecticut River.

The scene then shifts to the confrontation at the courthouse in Westminter, Vermont, on 13 Mar 1775. That was a real scene of conflict between New York-appointed authorities and settlers who held grants from New Hampshire. The parish was politically split east and west. Men who opposed the New York government took over the courthouse. The sheriff and a judge read the Riot Act and then formed a posse from the population on their side to clear the building. The resulting violence killed two men inside the courthouse.

For centuries Vermonters have tried to tie that fracas in Westminster to the war that burst out in Massachusetts the next month. That’s tenuous but arguable. Contrary to how the Rebels comic depicts the scene, however, there were no redcoat troops involved. Nor was the Continental Congress discussing “separation from the Crown” in March 1775. Nor was Albany yet the capital of New York.

I’m hoping that future issues of Rebels are better grounded in Revolutionary history and material culture. There really is great narrative potential in the events of the War for Independence, stories that can be both accurate and fresh for comics readers.

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