November 06, 2006

Driving North

I just found John M. Ford's original "Driving North" story. Most of the text was included in the comic book adaptation, published in Captain Confederacy's tenth issue, but since some of Mike's fans don't like stories with pictures, here's the straight version:

Driving North

by John M. Ford

I knew there would be trouble when I saw the car on the side of the road. It was just after one AM, cold for June, and there was fog in all the low spots of Tennessee 28. The car was sitting on the shoulder, crabbed a little because of one ripped tire, surrounded by five motorcycles. Big Harleys with the usual outlaw-biker rig. I didn't see any people.

I pulled over about sixty yards behind the stopped car, and got out to have a look, leaving the key in the ignition and the driver's door open. I have a switch that cuts off the dome light, and there have been times I was glad to have the extra seconds for not opening the door and hunting the key. I'm not worried about thieves.

It wasn't hard to find the party. Certainly not hard to get close to them unheard. It would have been impossible to make more noise than them.

There were five men -- correction, four men and a bulky woman -- in leather and denim and steel studs -- around one small thin man in a light-colored suit. Two of the bikers had four-cell flashlights, the heavy aluminum ones that when held properly make excellent truncheons. There was a steel whip out, and a knife, and the fifth one apparently considered hands and feet sufficient. Had to account for that: sometimes those sorts are right about themselves. The little man was armed with a briefcase clutched in both hands.

The circle was taunting the lone man, telling him to either go down fighting or at least run like a good li'l rabbit, but not to just stand there pissing his drawers. . . . I clicked off. The conversation was irrelevant. Only actions counted now. My hand went into my jacket.

The knifeman was the most immediate threat, so I took him first. One round, ten yards, sternum. The one closest to the victim was second priority. One round, twelve yards, neck hit from sternum aim. I corrected. The one closest to me was next. One from two yards, heart-spine. The flashlights went out. I moved my left thumb and lit the woods back up with a pocket halogen lamp.

The woman next, two rounds, shoulder, head. I was over-correcting. The last man, the one with nothing in his hands, was doing a broken-field run toward me. I had to assume he knew what weapon I was using, so I ejected the magazine. The Gorgas .42 is the best combat pistol in the Confederacy, except only for its skimpy magazine. Everyone who has ever seen an episode of Captain Confederacy or C-Men knows to count six and charge, like this fellow. When I ejected after five, he hesitated, wondering if he'd miscounted.

The fact that he hadn't didn't save him. I let the flashlight drop on its wrist cord, slid the new clip in, and fired twice from barely arm's reach, literally blowing his brains out. Then I still had to sidestep his body, which took three more steps before falling.

The crickets sounded loud again.

The man in the suit said "Who in God's name are you?"

I said "Are you Doctor Charles Brikola?" I knew he was. If he hadn't been, I'd never have interfered here. It wouldn't have been any of my business.

"Yes, but I . . . how did you . . ." He looked frightened. He was trying to guess who I was. What side I was on.
I reached to the pocket of the last man to die, took out his wallet. "Take a look," I said, and showed him a Confederate Bureau of Investigation card.

Brikola's shoulders shook. "Oh," he said, as if to be saying Dear me, why didn't I think of that? "Then you are with the FBI?"

"OSS," I said. "Section A, North American Affairs." Brikola looked expectant. I said "You surely don't expect me to be carrying a card proving that?"

Brikola said "Oh," again. My daddy once told me "That's the trouble with geniuses, son: they can jump like rabbits from one idea to the next, but they can't walk." He should have known. My daddy had an IQ measured at 210 and a doctorate each from Cornell and U. of Chicago. He didn't get along with cars and he hated guns and he never got a handle on me, but oh that man's mind could jump.

I took the money from the dead man's wallet, then did the same with the others. There was nearly two thousand dollars Confederate among them.

Brikola was giving me an odd look. "What's the matter," I said, "`pennies off a dead man's eyes'?"

Brikola said "It does not seem right."

"First, they're dead, and it's no use to any of 'em. If you know that one's an Egyptian pharaoh, point him out and I'll put his back. Second, getting you across the American border may take some palm-greasing and certainly some food and gasoline, and cash is the best way to get all those things." They love it when you're hard and cynical. Who would take a kind, trusting spy seriously? They don't believe in you unless you distill their own paranoia into a credo.

Brikola got quiet then and we went back to the cars. His was useless, the rear axle had cracked when the bikers blew the tire. I looked around for what they'd blown it with: a sawed-off twelve-gauge. I left it. We loaded Brikola's suitcaise into my car and drove on North. The fog kept us down to forty or less on the crooked road.

"I have not thanked you for saving my life," Brikola said. "It was . . . very fortunate."

"I didn't and it wasn't."

"Excuse me?"

"If those goons had wanted you dead, you'd have never gotten out of the car alive. No, Dr. Brikola, they were just giving you the hoo-raw a little. Maybe break one of your legs, cut you in a couple of places, but nothing serious. They were just going to scare you so badly that you'd think twice-three-times before trying to go North again."

He nodded.

I said "And it wasn't lucky, either. A dead C-Man puts the whole damn network on alert. They know you're running now, they'll know about where you started from, and they'll know you've got help." I glanced at him. He wasn't actually a little man: he was about my height, though much thinner. But the way he carried himself, round-shouldered and furtive, made him seem small. "Which leads us to the last important thing you ought to know . . ." I looked at him first, the road second. "You're our first good crack in a long time at getting the Super-Soldier formula, and naturally we'll be real happy to have you working for us. But if we lose you, or it, we're no worse off than we were. While if we're caught helping you defect, we're a lot worse off. So --"

"So your instructions are to save the formula first, myself second, and failing both . . . you would say, cut and run?"

"That's what I'd say."

"Very well. And I would still like to thank you for your rescue." He loosened his grip on the briefcase. "You could quite easily have allowed them to injure or kill me before intervening. Or even killed me yourself. I am certain that a case of papers is easier to smuggle over a border than a man."

"Truth will out," I said, which is the biggest damn lie there is, and "The men I work for demand full and accurate reports," which is the second biggest. "Besides, I don't like seeing people get beat on."

Brikola nodded, smiled a little. Always soften the cynicism just a little with a frail flame of humanity. It's all part of the hall of mirrors: they all hate their jobs and envy yours, so make them think you hate yours and covet theirs.

* * *

I replayed the scene in my head, Brikola in the circle of thugs, and considered how long it had been since that sort of thing had had any effect on my thinking. At one time it would have. At one time it would have made me crazy as a bull in heat. But that part of me had died eleven years ago, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on a steambath August night. I killed it with thirty-one blows of a ball-peen hammer, stuffed it into a garment bag and hung it in a closet, to be found six days later when the smell reached the next floor.

I told my boss that I wanted the job to be taken for a madman's work, and he agreed that it was fine, but I could hear him silently agreeing that yes, it was that.

He was right and he was wrong. Before Pascagoula I had been insane. But somewhere between strokes of the hammer I found myself, like the ship in the Kipling story whose parts all learn to pull as one.

My daddy knew thousands of lines of Kipling's poetry. He could also quote Donne and Eliot and Keats, but he loved Kipling and Shakespeare.

My daddy was an engineer and petroleum chemist with Amroco, which at the time was the largest of the Rockefeller oil companies. This was at a time when the USA was terrified that its few fields were nearly sucked dry and its foreign supplies might be cut off. Amroco bought up some coal mines and started working on turning coal to gas, so we got sent to Pennsylvania.

What I didn't know -- wouldn't until years later -- was that Dad's job with Amroco was to solve problems. The company would get itself into some kind of tight place, and Dad would have to invent something to save them.

If the rights to my daddy's inventions had stayed with him, instead of Amroco, his income would have been just under eleven million U.S. dollars a year. The company paid him a lot of money. We were never poor. But it wasn't eleven million dollars a year. I found this out in an Amroco vault that I had to kill two people to enter and four to leave. With the stuff I took out with me Amroco got put out of business for good and all. It didn't do my daddy any good.

See, his last problem, the Pennsylvania thing, was that Amroco had gotten a contract from the US government to deliver a coal-gasification plant on-line in three years. They'd spent half a billion bucks, they had nothing but a pilot plant called Liberty One that hadn't produced a whiff of gas, and there were four months to go.

Dad found the problem. He worked out how to fix it. I remember him drawing on the kitchen tablecloth. And then he found the second problem, the one nobody had known was there. Amroco Liberty One was leaking a methyl compound into the groundwater. There were going to be deformed kids, dead kids. There was going to be a lot of cancer.

I remember Dad looking at me hard one day. I didn't know what was going on, how could I, but I thought he was looking right through me, into my bones and guts. In a way, he was.

When he turned away from me, he went out the door, and to the City Hall, and told the Mayor and everybody else what had come out of Liberty One.

You probably think that the town went wild, but that's because you live in the Eighties, when everyone's always on a short fuse about their environment trying to kill them.

Besides, the local people had an interest in the plant. Oil was through the roof, but coal prices were down, way down. The miners were hungry, and this was going to feed them.

But something had happened to Dad. We stayed in our house, but he put in air cleaners and a big Beckman still, fitted into the plumbing so it processed all our water. He did chromatography tests on our food. I thought he was crazy. I was glad we were a couple of miles out of town, so other people couldn't see him being crazy. I was sixteen and a complete idiot.

Five weeks later, one month before the Government deadline, six kids were born in town. Three were dead and the others should have been. It was like the end of a horror movie, where all the monsters pop up to tear the characters apart, and the more that us high-school kids repeated the story the more like a splatter movie it got. Grownups didn't believe any of this junk back then, of course, but you know better. We only knew about the Wonderful World of the Future. You know about dioxin and babies without eyes.

* * *

Just before two AM I said "There's a truck stop just up there. We ought to get gas. Feel like a cup of coffee?"

"Yes. That would be very nice." I never met a scientist who didn't think so. Then he said "Do you think it is safe?"

"Safer now than later. And a lot safer to have a full tank."

We turned off. I parked a bit of a distance from the place, by a lonely light pole, and we crossed the parking lot to the restaurant. In real life I should have filled the gas tank first, and parked close to the door, in case something unpleasant happened while we were eating. Brikola didn't notice.

He'd seemed like such a careful man.

There must be ten thousand of these places between the Yukon and Yucatan, everywhere roads go, but there's really only one of them. Twangy guitar music. Tough truckers drinking tough coffee. Tables covered with plastic pictures of wood and printed paper placemats. (These had Interesting Facts about the Confederate Presidents. Did you know that Rutledge played the fiddle at his own Inaugural Ball? Sure you did.)

A waitress in a paper cap and a ruffled dress -- yeah, her nametag really said "Dixie" -- brought us hundred-mile coffee and pork-fritter sandwiches. Brikola ate his in about three bites, and then put away a big slice of apple pie with ice cream on top.

He said "Are you paid very well for your work?"

"Well enough to do it."

He didn't loosen up. He tightened. "But you do not work for the money."

Well golly god damn, I could tell the truth. "I'm no patriot."

"No, of course. A foolish notion."

"Last refuge of a scoundrel."

Brikola looked up, wondering where I'd heard that. "Still, money is only how we reach the things we want, correct?"

"I s'pose so."

Dixie refilled our coffee cups. "Roads good tonight?" she said.

"Foggy," I said, from somewhere south of Lexington. "Nobody much out there though."

"What you fellas pushin'?"

Brikola tensed. He was still thinking about CBI men. That was my fault. Then, I did it on purpose. I said "Tufnell Machine Tool Company, at your service, ma'am. I'm in sales. Doc here's with our ree-search division. He's from Switzerland."

Dixie said "I thought'ch'all just made cuckoo clocks."

Brikola said "I am personally a specialist in ball bearings."

Dixie smiled at that. Before Brikola invented any more cover story, I said "And I've been wonderin' if I could interest you in a long-stroke case-hardened hydraulic press with vacuum attachments."

"Fresh," she said, no more angry than necessary, and went away. Brikola blinked at me.

I said "You were talking about things we really want?"

"I want no more than my work requires," he said, back on his horse again. "The ability to continue my work. The resources it demands. I hope your government sees fit to give me these things."

"You think they won't? They're paying enough to get hold of you."

"So, at one time, did the Confederate government. I am sure that other nations would as well."

"Governments and science go right past me," I lied.

"I do not think you are stupid," Brikola lied back. "But I will show you what everyone understands." He pressed his fingertips down on the table. They sank half an inch into the mica top.

"You tested the supersoldier stuff on yourself," I said, not raising my voice, not sounding surprised because I sure as hell wasn't.

"I wish that you would not call it that," he said, meaning that I should do as he wished. "The Ultimate Potential formula stretches every aspect of the human body and mind. To imply that its only use is to create better soldiers is like saying that the purpose of the printing press is pornography." He looked straight into my eyes. "For instance, I have become a functioning telepath. It is difficult now, but it will become simpler as the formula continues to perfect me."

I can read minds too. Off a person's eyes and hands and body. I can read a whole lot off the way a man touches his wedding ring. And it isn't a strain. In fact, if I give a person just an hour alone with me, he'll usually tell me straight out what he's thinking. Like Brikola just had.

Functioning telepath, he said. Well, he sure couldn't have gotten much from me, or we wouldn't still be sitting here drinking coffee like old pals.

In my trade you can't experiment too often. You have to stick to what's proven. But I took the chance. I stared at Brikola, over the cups and the cold fries, and I waited for him to read my mind.

Well, I guess he just wasn't quite perfect yet.

* * *

I told you that my daddy could look clean through me. Maybe the talent runs in the family. But you have to understand it, know how to use it. I knew just what Dad was going to do the morning he did it, and I didn't really believe it. Or maybe I did, but I didn't believe it was going to make any difference to my life. Nobody ever believes that about anything.

What he did, just ten days after those six monster babies were born, was drive to Harrisburg with a satchel full of Amroco papers, all the facts about what Liberty One had done and was doing. He used his oil-company card to get into the governor's office and dropped the whole mess on his desk. Before that he'd made enough noise that there were reporters right behind him to catch it all. It was on television that afternoon and in all the evening papers.

The rocks started coming through our windows before Dad got home that night.

The phone never stopped ringing, and I couldn't go to school, and the obstetrician at the clinic had his car set on fire. Since that time, I've learned that mobs are not always brainless, that there is such a thing as conspiracy, as evil genius.

I looked at my daddy on that last day, and I saw that he knew something too terrible to be understood. He hugged me, not unusual for him, and he went away to work, nothing strange in that.

I went up to the library -- there didn't seem to be anybody at all in town -- and read old Popular Sciences until my mom came for me, riding in a police car.

There was a photograph of the scene in LIFE magazine, taken by W. Eugene Smith, a very great news photographer who was also beaten to death by company thugs, though it was a different company in another country.

In the photograph, the men stand in front of the plant with their picks and clubs raised. in an ordinary picture they would seem quite menacing, but Smith was not an ordinary photographer. Behind the mob of dangerous men is Liberty One, a dark cage of tanks and piping shrouded in its own steam and filth, and it menaces them -- though they do not see it -- it threatens to eat them alive, like the Moloch-machine in Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

To the side of the picture is a heavy man with his hands in his jacket pockets. He seems indifferent to the camera; he seems to be smiling benignly on the mob. Well he should. His name was Jefferson Berry, Jr., and his job was turning groups of unhappy people into mobs who would do something discreditable, like beating my daddy to death with coal picks and baseball bats.

Years afterward, I met Jefferson Berry, Jr. I talked with him for just over an hour. This was in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

* * *

I said "We'd better move on. I'll pay the bill, don't want the girl remembering you too well. You need to use the can?"

He did once I'd mentioned it. The bladder is a man's most suggestible organ.

I paid. Then I went toward the back. The truck stop had Members Only Lounges, which is what the New South calls whites-only restrooms. Liberals can use the others. I didn't figure Brikola for a liberal. The guy checking memberships saw that I belonged and let me through.

Brikola was alone inside, washing his hands. He did it as if he expected to be performing surgery.

"Do you wish me to wait for you?" he said.

I got the car keys out, held them toward him. "You might as well go on to the car." As he took a step toward me, I grasped the keys in my fist like a short knife, stabbed at his face. He backed off automatically. I took another couple of jabs toward him, driving him against the door of one of the toilet stalls. Rushing a strong man, even a startled one, is not a good idea. I kicked his left foot out from under him and he fell down, into the stall.

I got on top of Brikola, held his head down in the toilet.

"What are you doing?" he said.

"Like you said, a briefcase is easier to get across a border than a man." I pushed him under. I felt his muscles tense, in crazy patterns. He was strong but he didn't know what to do with it. I let him throw me out of the stall and most of the way across the room. The car keys fell out of my hand and clattered on the tile floor.

We had here what often gets called a moment of truth. I wasn't hurt, but I wasn't seeing quite straight. If Brikola wanted to come over and rip my heart out all I had was the .42 in my coat. Which might not stop him.

But he didn't do anything to me. I'd kept telling him there were scary men coming after us, reminding him we were on the run. He stopped just long enough to get the car keys, and then he ran.

I picked myself up, tidied my clothes. I used the room for its intended function and combed my hair at the mirror.

On the way out, I bought a box of Goo Goo Clusters, a pack of Durham Filters, a couple of Cokes. The cool moist air cleared the rest of the fog from inside my head. I walked to the car.

Brikola was leaning forward against the wheel. The horn did not sound; I had moved the button when I rewired the car. Brikola's face was dusted white, like a clown's. His eyes were shut.

When he tried to start the car without holding in a switch on the left armrest, a canister of NX2 gas in the center of the steering column fired into his face. The original idea had been for a bomb, but bombs are messy, cars are expensive, and you never know when someone is going to want you as a hostage.

I shoved him over, pressed the cutout switch and started the car. We continued north.

Two miles along Brikola stirred. NX2 will put a normal man out for eight hours minimum. I pulled off the road into a foggy little hollow -- holler, that is to say -- got some things out of the trunk and did the job the Confederate States of America had hired me to do.

I don't always do it, you see. A person can't be unkilled. Not that anyone who hires me cares about that; but I care. I want to know that when I do a thing, it's right, and just. It takes about an hour, alone, to find that out.

When I first saw Charles Brikola tonight, he was surrounded, outnumbered, by people who clearly meant him harm. But he wasn't in any danger from them. He was full of his superman formula. He could have run away from them; he could have scared them away. But he didn't do either. He was waiting for a chance to kill them.

They deserved killing, whoever they were, bandits or someone else's hired killers. (That CBI card wasn't real. I know. It was mine.)

At Murfreesboro I turned east. My trade knows no rest.

Sometimes I think I'm the Angel of Death, sometimes the Flying Dutchman. Other times I'm just a commercial traveler with a job to do, down the ends of a thousand roads. Maybe someday I'll meet you; maybe I already have. You never know until the time comes.

September 10, 2006

Chapter Ten























September 04, 2006

Ah, the "Rebel Yell!" letters column is back!

Well, in a 2006 internet way. The sort of thing I loved about the old letter column has just happened here: CAPTAIN CONFEDERACY MAP OF CENTRAL NORTH AMERICA Population Statistic

It's always embarrassing when your readers know more than you do. But it's also delightful.

August 11, 2006

C.S.A. - the movie

If you're reading this blog, you want to buy or rent Kevin Wilmott's C.S.A. It's not plausible—the Confederacy wanted to secede, not to conquer, which is why purists of language say their war wasn't a civil war, but a war of secession, like the American Revolution. But the film's not meant to be plausible: it's a thoughtful and entertaining meditation on race in the USA. It's especially appropriate on TV, because it's designed as a broadcast from a parallel Earth.

It suckered me in by noting the economics of slavery at the beginning: slaves weren't cheap, a fact missed by those who think the Civil War wasn't a contest over wealth. Its take on Abraham Lincoln is not naive. (Yes, I would've liked a mention of Lincoln's support in 1861 for the proposed 13th amendment to make slavery permanent, but he does cite this from Lincoln's 1862 letter to Horace Greeley: "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it."

My favorite bits were the commercials and clips from that world's popular culture. There's a great piece from a Broaday musical, and a nice bit of alternate D.W. Griffith. My main quibble is that it's a low-budget effort, and sometimes that shows. I would've liked a one-hour version rather than a 90 minute one, but it doesn't drag; it just limps occasionally.

Ultimately, it's not about the Confederacy or the Civil War. It's about what happened after. Anyone interested in race and culture should give it a look.

April 12, 2006

Bit Torrent Captain Confederacy

Just discovered that someone is Bit Torrenting the old Captain Confederacy issues. I'm not bothering to see what's in the files, but if anyone's impatient and wants to read the vastly inferior original pages, it appears to be at isoHunt and therefore must be at other Bit Torrent sites, too.

I'll post more revised pages next week.

February 05, 2006

about revising Captain Confederacy

As I revise, I'm appalled at what a bad comic book writer I was. People were kind because they liked the idea of a superhero as a propaganda tool in an alternate reality, but, oh, how I went on with no sense of where I was going. Which is my way of saying, If you're thinking of getting the original issues, I beg you, wait for this version to be finished and collected. Even if it's not better than the original, it's a faster read.

Part of me wishes I never began revising. But I'm proud of the Miss Dixie story published in #6 (which will still be pruned), and I love John M. Ford's story from #10 (which will not have one word changed), and I'll always be grateful to Vince for coming through every time. My only real regret about revising this is deleting many pages and panels that I like. But I'm remembering the rule that every storyteller should know: If something doesn't serve the story, no matter how much you like it, cut it.

If you're curious about the effect of the changes so far:

Chapter One was 30 pages; it's 28.

Chapter Two was 24 pages; it's 18.

Chapter Three was 26 pages; it's 16.

Yes, if this pattern continues, the page count for Chapter Twelve will be in negative numbers.

January 21, 2006

a map of Central North America

1. The Confederate States of America*
2. The Free State of Louisiana
3. The United States of America°
4. The Republic of Texas**
5. The Great Spirit Alliance°°
6. Deseret
7. The People's Republic of California°
8. Pacifica°°

* Caribbean states and non-continental possessions not shown.
° Non-continental possessions not shown.
** Southern borders not shown.
°° Northern borders not shown.

January 20, 2006

in praise of artistic collaborators

The silliest credit in art is "a film by." A director without a script is a jerk who's bothering a photographer. In comics, Joe Siegel needed Jerry Shuster, Stan Lee needed Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, and Bob Kane needed Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson. To claim a film as yours, you should write, direct, and edit it; to claim a comic, you should write and draw it.

I don't get enough opportunities to praise Vince Stone, so I thought I would make one. I loved two things about putting out this comic: getting letters from readers and art from Vince. Vince's professionalism is impeccable. No matter how impossible my script suggestions were, he always delivered, and he delivered on time.

I love three things in particular about Vince's work: his design, composition, and storytelling. Emma sketched costumes for Captain Confederacy, Miss Dixie, and Blacksnake; Vince made them grand. Every other visual element is entirely his creation, based on a hint in the script like "middle-aged white guy" or "one-person helicopter." His covers and page panels are clear, and his storytelling flows: He gives you enough detail to know what's going on in a panel, but not so much that you linger. He understands what the best storytellers know: each moment and scene in a story is important, but they exist to move the story forward.

I'm posting this because I was thinking about the quick interview I gave at The Comic Book Bin, where I was asked, "How was it cooperating with your partner on the book?" and I answered, "Vince Stone is a pleasure to work with." At the time, I was writing fast, but afterward, it occured to me that someone might think I was slighting Vince's contribution to the book. So I just want to say I mean every word of that: Vince Stone is a pleasure to work with.

There's an aspect that goes beyond professionalism: He's a darn nice guy. If you want a hint of that, follow the link on this page to his web site and try his Hero Factory.

January 19, 2006

everyone came to America before Columbus

"America had often been discovered before Columbus, but it had always been hushed up." Oscar Wilde

A letter from Pam Noles

Just got a letter that I wanted to share. With her permission, here it is:
I could have sworn that when I first came to the site earlier this week, due to the heads-up on Gaiman's blog, clicking around there was a note somewhere in one of the comments from you wondering about books discussing the Islamic slave trade. Maybe I imagined it. I can't find it now. Thus the email.

IF you were actually looking for information about this, there are a few books, but not all of them are very good. The one I highly recc is Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa, by Humphrey J. Fisher, New York University Press. The edition I have came out in 2001. Because my copy is kind of beat up, I can't make out the ISBN. It is an excellent book, with tons and TONS of excerpts from journals of the time. Some of the information is touched upon in The Slave Trade, by Hugh Thomas, ISBN 0684810638. My edition came out in 1997. I don't know if it's still in print, though. But he just touches upon it, because that book covers a lot of territory.

I guess the biggest thing to be aware of about the African/Muslim role in the Atlantic slave trade is the role of a man named Tippu Tip. He was the agent for the Sultan of Zanzibar, he of the blood red flag, but information about him is spotty. Or rather, comprehensive information about him is not readily available in English. Lots of out of print stuff that has me bashing my head against the wall wishing I had far more money than I do. I did find two letters he wrote in an archive in Scotland. A librarian there sent me copies. I *squealed* when they arrive. Anyways, sharing in case that's useful.

Did you know about the Confederate soldiers who fled north to Canada, just like slaves? They set up communities there and everything, as they did here in California, just outside of San Diego. I discovered this when I was researching information about John H. Morgan/the Raiders for another project and came across one of those narrative pamphlets a university had scanned and archived on the Internet(s). They used to send the Pinkertons after them! I haven't had time to dig into this deeply, but I can find the links here on the hard drive and send if you are interested.

I have read much of your prose. I had *no idea* you did this comic. I was around and reading indy comics back then, so I don't know how it didn't come up on my radar. Much luck in getting it to paper stage so I can buy it.

Pam Noles

READ! My latest work, 'Stagecoach Mary', appears in the Gunned Down comics anthology. (Terra Major.)
YAY! My novella 'Whipping Boy' snagged an an Honorable Mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Eighteenth Annual Collection. (St. Martin's Press) The story first appeared in Dark Matter: Reading the Bones in 2004. (Warner Aspect) That anthology recently won the 2005 World Fantasy Award for best anthology.
DENIAL! I SWEAR I didn't write this just to Upset People: shame
BLOG! And We Shall March
Useful info! Thanks!

You're right that there was a comment about the slave trade, but I'm not sure if it was on this blog or one of my others. (Yes, too many blogs, but I don't expect everyone to be interested in everything I'm interested in.) I keep trying to think of a more efficient way to track comments, but given the way Blogger works and the wonderfully freeform nature of the web, I'm inclined to roll with what we've got for now.

And I'd love to know more about the folks who went to Canada.

January 18, 2006

the funniest alternate history on the web?

The Old Negro Space Program is on the 2005 Preliminary Nebula Ballot for Scripts with the notation, the eligibility of this work has been questioned and has yet to be ruled on by the rules committee. I hereby join Black. Geek. And fine with that. in hoping—no, demanding!—that it be made eligible.

Sure, SFWA has rules. But, come on, Rules Committee! Funny should trump rules.

If Ken Burns and the NASA oldtimers have seen this, they must've winced while they laughed.

about alternate history

Thanks to Uchronia, I now know that for at least two thousand years, people have written fictional histories. This doesn't include religious stories; religious stories are nonfiction, not because they're true, but because they're presented as truth. Alternate histories admit that they're asking the question that begins all stories: What if?

I would cite Uchronia even if they didn't quote me at the start of Introduction: What is Alternate History? But if they seem a little too scholarly, try Wikipedia's entries on Alternative history (fiction) and its cousin, the secret history.

Captain Confederacy's piece of the alternate history genre is a very popular one. The first alternative Civil War story was written before the war began: Edmund Ruffin's Anticipations of the Future, published in 1860, is a story about an independent South that was written by a Southerner who feared what would happen if Lincoln was elected.

Edmund Ruffin Fires First Shot of Civil War summarizes it this way:
In Ruffin's novel the Republicans elect William H. Seward as President in 1860. In power, the Republicans proceed to "negroize" society, Ruffin's term for granting social equality to blacks. The white daughters of prominent abolitionists in Washington vie with each other to win the favor of the black ambassador from Haiti, the "Count of Marmalade." When the North emancipates the slaves, the South secedes from the Union, and Owen Brown, son of John Brown, leads an army of blacks southward against the seceders. Much to the surprise of the Northerners, however, the members of the black army desert, return to the plantations where they were raised and, on bended knees, beg their former masters to please reenslave them. With their black army depleted by desertions, the North has no choice but to surrender to the South.
Yes, there are a lot of stupid speculations in the field of alternative history. But there are some great ones, too. When Captain Confederacy was being published, I ran this:

A Short Reading List of Southern Alternative History

Bisson, Terry. Fire on the Mountain. Arbor House, 1988. A slave revolt creates a black nation in the American South. The parts of the story set in the 19th century are wonderful.

Churchill, Winston S. “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg.” Essay, 1931. (Available in If It Had Happened Otherwise, J. C. Squire, ed., St. Martin’s, 1972.) One of the earliest bits of Confederate alterniana.

Kantor, MacKinlay. If the South Had Won the Civil War. Bantam Books, 1961. (Also available in Story Teller, a collection of Kantor’s essays.) Charmingly naive, says yr. humble correspondent.

Moore, Ward. Bring the Jubilee, 1955. Perhaps the finest novel in this tiny sub-genre.

Poyer, David C. The Shiloh Project. Avon Books, 1981. An entertaining espionage tale.

Williams, Walter Jon. “No Spot of Ground.” Novella in What Might Have Been, Vol 2, Benford and Greenberg, eds. Bantam Books, 1989. Edgar Allan Poe lives to become a Confederate officer. It’s grand.

commenting on the Captain Confederacy controversy

When I read Family finds comic book gift offensive, I was appalled, but a little flattered. Mark Twain’s often called a racist for dealing with racial issues; it’s great company to join.

To be fair to Ms. Boswell, who bought the comic, and Ms. Assemi, who wrote the article, Captain Confederacy uses images and language with strong connotations in a science fiction comic book. Both science fiction and comics can be hard to understand if you’re not familiar with the conventions. They’re like kabuki or rap music; if you come to them as an outsider, your first reaction will be bafflement.

Ms. Boswell probably assumed comic books hadn’t changed since the 1960s. She wanted to do something nice for a kid. She discovered she had bought something that she didn’t understand, but she thought she understood the symbols. So she took her story to the local newspaper.

Ms. Assemi probably was working under a very tight deadline. That’s the nature of commercial news. The price is that our news is filled with errors; I’ve never read an article about something I knew intimately without finding at least one mistake. Ms. Assemi said she didn’t notice my email link on my web page, and while it’s not hidden, it’s not prominent. She said she tried to find my phone number and failed. Even if she had found the number, I often let the machine answer, so I probably wouldn’t have been able to call her back before her deadline.

The paper didn’t run my short letter of correction. But they did run a better letter from a local comics seller; if they only had room for one, they made the right call.

I appreciate the sympathy and indignation that people have been expressing here and elsewhere, like in the comments to CAPTAIN CONFEDERACY MOVES TO THE WEB. If you love freedom of expression, the US’s First Amendment, or the possibilities of comics as an art form, it’s infuriating to have someone say they think something shouldn’t be published. But freedom of expression includes the right to say you don’t believe in freedom of expression for others, so I can’t fault Ms. Boswell for saying what she believed. She was wrong, and as someone who manages to be wrong a little more often than I’d like, I can’t blame her for that, either.

And so far, the consequences for me have only been good. I never made much of an effort to reprint Captain Confederacy because I wanted to revise it someday. My original dialogue needed tightening, and the pacing of the story was too slow. As for the Epic series, Captain Confederacy was one of the first comics to be colored and lettered on a computer, and since I was the letterer and colorist, I can say bluntly that the colors were too bright and the lettering was too faint. I’m much happier with the version that I’m posting here. I hope you will be, too.