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Archive for the ‘Civil War’ Category




Zombie Abe Lincoln!

Written on Saturday, July 28th, 2018 [permanent link]

I have some awesome shelved projects.

That rough draft for a whole comic about Ancient India got approval from every educator I showed it to – right up to college professors who study that culture saturated with history and myth. I planned to pay for this book myself because I would sell a LOT of copies to a giant Virginia school district that mandated the teaching of Ancient India. But the draft made district officials too nervous, I lost the main customer, and I never touched the draft again.

Once a museum director asked me to make a pitch for a comic book biography of General George Marshall. It would have been hard to draw a whole book about Marshall, since his genius was in PLANNING (lots of drawings of MEETINGS!!}, but I was willing to try because he was a major force in the World War II era. The money people wouldn’t pay for even a draft to test this idea.

I voluntarily drew and colored two pages to demonstrate a comic version of a high school textbook about the core debates that have echoed through our politics for more than two centuries. I was excited to use color flow to show how two basic viewpoints on an issue (big vs. small government!} collided in a historical era. Those two pages came out beautifully. The textbook maker decided NAAAAAAH.

A lot of good ideas get stuck on the chit-chat side of the money contract. One woman’s vision to have me tell the history of her cute little Virginia town never got to the money stage. There are countless party conversations where someone gets a light bulb about matching my art to their favorite history, and then no one ever follows up.

Sometimes we get past the contract phase. Last year a major retelling of the Lewis and Clark expedition from the viewpoint of the Native American nations fell apart because the ambitious rough draft showed what the Native Americans thought — too dangerous. The buyers bailed.

When the Lewis and Clark project vanished, I got a clear view of my landscape of half-finished ideas. And there was Abe.

I rough drafted a whole book about Abraham Lincoln a decade ago, hoping to get some sales off of the bicentennial celebration of his birth. I . . . uhhhhh. . . missed that window. Other projects came along with checks attached to them, and I took those to pay the mortgage. Doing a book purely for myself, paid for by only me, is a great risk.

Of course, Abe is worth the risk. But I also couldn’t begin on the final drawings for the Abe book until I confronted the truth: I let Abe sit on the shelf so long because I am intimidated by him. I’ve always loved Abe Lincoln, and he’s a towering figure who is hard to sum up in one comic. HUNDREDS of books have been written about him. And my dad loved Lincoln, too. He made sculptures and paintings of Abe for me. Returning to Abe this year would mean I would have to go back into the tunnel where I left the Abe draft years ago and carry it forward in the chill air left after my dad’s passing in 2015. Could I finally get Abe all the way through, out into the light? Could I stay focused for three months, or would I nibble awhile and then leave him behind in the dark again?

I hope you like new book.

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Battle of Antietam

Written on Monday, September 24th, 2012 [permanent link]

A week ago I woke up in a Maryland field to the sound of a rooster crowing.

And then the cannon started.

After that came the bugles that I normally hear for reveille. But the cannonfire was a nice touch. I’M AWAKE! I’M AWAKE!! My 15-year-old son and I were camping just north of the Antietam National Battlefield with 4,000 other reenactors for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle. The spread of hundreds of canvas tents under the pink morning sky was inspiring. In our four years of reenacting, I’ve never seen more cavalry or more artillery on the field, sweeping to and fro during the afternoon battles for the spectators.

It’s like watching a moving painting. I portray a battlefield cartoonist, so I’m not marching in the lines of blue and gray but standing back on a hill, furiously sketching what it looks like for 400 men to storm a fence held by 250 other men. And I can also zoom down to sketch details that will add depth my own visual storytelling — how does the pot over the campfire look? How does J.E.B. Stuart hold his sword as he charges? And being in the mix of reenactors gives my other senses a chance to record details for me to use later. How hot is it in the wool clothing at midday? How do your feet feel after a day of marching? What does a Civil War mortar sound like when it fires?

Being on the actual field gives me a chance to research outside the box that a movie or TV show presents. The past 20 years have been revolutionary for the increasing number of historical movies and TV shows we get that have told great stories with great accuracy. But movies and TV shows are still a frame, capturing what a director or editor wants you to see — and leaving out the rest of the story. I’ve found that there’s no substitute for being able to stand somewhere to get a sense of the place and the historical event that happened there.

The visuals are a big part of the story of Antietam — the single bloodiest day in American history. Because Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army was caught so close to Washington, DC, a few days after the battle Alexander Gardner was able to photograph the dead men still in the field. Gardner’s photos were the first ever images to show dead soldiers on the field of battle. A New York Times article about the photographs said it was if the “dead had been laid at our doorsteps.” For civilians who still thought the Civil War was a romantic crusade, those photos were an unsettling window to the brutality and waste of the war.

You can read my story about Antietam — which includes info about Gardner’s photos — by visiting the iTune store!

 

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Battle of Bentonville, NC

Written on Friday, April 2nd, 2010 [permanent link]
My son Truman and I watch Confederates after the battle.

My son Truman and I watch Confederates after the battle.

In March 2010 my sons and I did our first overnight Civil War reenactment. The first big battle of this year had gorgeous weather and a good location, so it drew thousands of reenactors from as far away as Maine and Florida, and I got a good feel for some of the history I’ll be drawing soon for the 150th anniversary of the war.

Samuel and Truman and I have camped for years with the Boy Scouts. For the Civil War reenacting, it was fun to be in a campsite with no Coleman stoves — cooking over an open fire the way I did when I was a teenager in Boy Scouts back in the distant 1980s. There were so many campfires that by Saturday night the NC woods were thick with blue smoke — I had to go out onto an open field to clear my eyes. Now THAT’S getting a feel for history!

At Civil War events I portray a freelance cartoonist who draws battlefield scenes for the New York papers and magazines — not too big a stretch for me! The Battle of Bentonville was so big that it had a great diversity of reenactors. I mixed in with many women and children in period clothing, and near the sutlers row was a mobile blacksmith! I was fascinated to see him work out of this cart. That must have been a vital skill to bring along with an army, which would have needed frequent repairs to equipment.

The Battle of Bentonville lasted three days in March 1865, just a few weeks before Lee’s surrender to Grant in Virginia. Bentonville was the Confederate attempt to stop Gen. William T. Sherman from getting to Grant to help surround Lee — and the Confederates succeeded, but by the end of the three days Sherman still had about 90,000 men on the field and the Confederates had only about 20,000. Everyone knew the end of the war was near. Sherman was criticized for not attacking harder on the third day of fighting, to completely smash the army opposing him, but Sherman didn’t want further bloodshed.

The Civil War tactic of lining men up shoulder-to-shoulder and blasting away from just a few hundred feet was butchery. The reenactment gave me a good feel for that — and it’s hard for me to watch it even when the men are shooting just gunpowder without projectiles.

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