Rebels is a new series from Dark Horse Comics which explores the lives of militia members and colonists during the Revolutionary War.
“In a rush of great public resistance to an oppressive and excessive government, a homegrown militia movement is formed in rural America,” the comic description reads. “This is not 2015, but 1775.”
“With the war for independence playing out across the colonies, young Seth and Mercy Abbott find their new marriage tested at every turn, as the demands of the frontlines and the home front collide. Live free or die!”
In this interview, I talk to the writer of the series, Brian Wood, about what motivated him to pen Rebels.
Jakari Jackson: What inspired you to write Rebels and why did you pick this period of American history?
Brian Wood: I was born and grew up in Vermont, and like a lot of areas of the country, its full of historical sites and places of significance – roadside memorials to fallen soldiers, state parks atop battle sites, things like that. I became aware of all of this pretty young, and in elementary school we learned the history properly, and its always stuck with me. Its as much of who I am as anything else… its in my bones, as they say. But it wasn’t until recently when I tasked myself with coming up with an idea for a historical comic book series that was very different from the last one I did (which was about Vikings). It honestly didn’t take that long to decide. I love history, all aspects of it, but there really is only one period that I know a lot about AND have an emotional connection to. And its this one.
And my partner in this project, Andrea Mutti, he’s actually an Italian living in Italy. I’ve worked with him in the past and had some reservations about inviting him to come onto this project because, you know, what significance would this history have to a guy who lives in Rome? It turns out, a lot. He’s a full on re-enactor, owns a few replica firearms, and has a deep affection and appreciation for both the events of the times and their significance. He brings a lot of passion to the book as well, as you can see in the art.
JJ: The story follows fictional characters but is based around real events. How do you balance fiction with historical narrative?
BW: The trick I see is to find the way to tell a fun, exciting, and relevant story that is respectful of the past and doesn’t take pointless liberties with it. I think history can be bent and played with in the service of a good fictional story – and this is fiction, after all – and while that might bug some purists out there, the point is to be as entertaining as possible. But like I said, I have a lot of personal affection and respect for this history, so I do want to do right by it. I want to be honest in how I depict it, and how I use the real life characters and events in the story.
It’s important to me for Rebels to act as a sort of counterweight to what I consider some serious disrespect shown to this history from politicians and political groups, those who fundraise off the imagery, who put their messages of division into the mouths of long-dead patriots or who twist historical events and speeches around to support their runs for office. It really bothers me – its so crass and gross and transparent. Rebels is very much a non-partisan telling of events, with honesty as its only ideology, warts and all.
I also want to point out that Rebels isn’t just a story about warfare, but a real examination of social issues surrounding the home, women’s roles, the freedom of the press at the time, and even veteran’s rights. Our main cast includes Seth and Mercy Abbott, and while Seth is out fighting with the Green Mountain Boys, Mercy holds things down at home, and not in a traditional sort of long-suffering housewife way, but with authority and skill and identity. She’s also carrying regret and resentment as well. It was important to me to show that sacrifice, the flip side of what we usually see as a very noble conflict. It was just as hard on the wives and families as it was on the men in the battle lines. In some ways more so.
JJ: In your story firearms appear to be an important check and balance between the redcoats and colonist. Do you feel the right to bear arms is as important today as it was in the 1700s?
BW: I don’t think its as important in the sense that its as needed now compared to then. Millions of people live their lives in peace without ever having use of a firearm, so they are not the indispensable tool they used to be. But I think they have a place. I grew up with guns in the house… my grandfather owned a gun shop and actually crafted them by hand, and we hunted as a family and for much of my childhood this was the way it was and to my parent’s credit they taught us safety and respect to an incredibly high standard. They were never toys, there was almost a sacredness about them. I would never suggest that this sort of common sense gun ownership doesn’t have a place in America and when I hear people talking about the 2nd Amendment, this is the sort of thing I think of.
But at the same time I don’t think we are experiencing the same sort of threat from our government now as colonists feared from the Crown back in 1770, and that’s the aspect of the gun rights debate that falls short for me. But in Rebels, as the insurrection was kicking into high gear, firearms in hand quite literally meant the difference between life and death.
JJ: In modern times people who identify as militiamen, patriots, constitutionalists, and so on are often linked with the likes of Timothy McVeigh. Do you think its a fair comparison?
BW: Not in that binary, absolutist way, no. I mean, I call myself a patriot, and I’m pretty distant from someone like McVeigh on the socio-political spectrum. But there are likely people who are right in line with the guy who consider themselves patriots too. So this is a hard question to answer. I would have to say, yes, I do think in some cases its a comparison that’s right on the money. But not all the time. I think we do people a disservice by trying to categorize people like that. I can’t think of a single human being I know that conforms so cleanly to any one ideology.
JJ: Do you think the militia has a place in modern day America?
BW: A military force raised from the civilian population to supplement the regular army? I don’t see a need for that today, no. A rebel or terrorist force that is in opposition to the regular army? I don’t see a need for that either, thank god. I give our founding fathers a lot of credit for that, actually. I can only imagine how violent and heart wrenching separation from England must have been, and success was in no way guaranteed. I believe they created and designed this country in such a way to ensure that an armed insurrection like that would never again be the only option available to us.
JJ: To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither”. If our founding fathers were here today would they say we sacrificed liberty for security?
BW: I always have a problem with what-if’s like this. I don’t think equal comparisons can be drawn between then and now since this country and society has evolved so much in the last couple hundred years. I mean, look, if they magically rose from the dead and appeared in front of us, I can’t imagine a single thing that wouldn’t completely horrify and terrorize them, including every day things that we all consider normal, fundamental parts of our lives. So yeah, they may look at us, slaves to careers, television shows, our phones, our junk food, our debt, our partisan politics, sex, anger, hate, our bodies, obsessing over random trinkets, and think we’re all completely compromised and broken people.
If the question is, do I think that Franklin’s quote has any particular relevance to ‘the now’ and what are my thoughts on that, I do think in the last decade or so we’ve been sold – from both political parties – a real bill of goods, this notion that our freedom is fundamentally at some sort of risk. I have a lot of love for this country, and if there is one aspect to it that I respect and admire the most, its its – our – ability to constantly be adapting and improving, accepting of new people and ideas and points of view and still being America.
JJ: What’s next for you (upcoming projects) and how can people keep up with your work (websites / social media)?
BW: Well, Rebels just started, and we’ll see that series run through the rest of the year. We have an initial commitment to produce ten issues of the comic, and then pick it up again next year if all goes well. I have a pretty good idea for a story about America’s first navy, the famous “six frigates” of the times. The beauty of a story like Rebels is the longer it runs, the more complete a picture it paints of the times. I hope I can keep it going for years.
As far as finding me online I’m most active on twitter (@brianwood) and my author page is on Facebook. I have a few new projects coming up, most notably this book called Starve, a fun send-up of foodie culture and celebrity chefs. But more relevant to what we just talked about, I am developing a new series to follow Rebels that takes on the idea of militia groups, and secessionist groups, in modern day America. I don’t have a title locked down yet, but I’ll be talking about this on twitter in the coming months.