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.