Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Q&A: Rodriguez on 'Colonial Comics'

by Matt Dembicki

D.C. Conspiracy member Jason Rodriguez has edited a new comics anthology called Colonial Comics (Fulcrum Publishing) that debuts this weekend at the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo in Boston. Below are a few questions Jason answered for us regarding his book. (Note: In full disclosure, I illustrated one of the stories in the book.)
What was your mission statement for the book?

I want to create a book that functions as both entertainment and education. The main idea is to tell stories that you often don't find in school history books that can, in turn, lead into larger discussions about colonial American history. When I was growing up, my knowledge of colonial American history was essentially: 1) some people came over here for religious freedom, they wore funny hats, 2) they met this one Native American...not sure what happened to him, 3) something about burning witches, and 4) we went to war with England. What I want to do is fill in those gaps and tell stories about the Native Americans and women and free-thinkers and slaves and business owners who came from the Colonies and give a better understanding of what life was like over our first 200+ years, the good and the bad.
How did you find collaborators, such as co-editors, writers and artists?
I reached out to a bunch of historians, first. That was always an interesting conversation. Writing Dr. Virginia DeJohn Anderson and telling her, "I really loved CREATURES OF EMPIRE, have you ever considered writing a comics story about free-range animal husbandry suitable for twelve year olds?" Of course the answer was, "No, I never thought of that." But over the course of several conversations we figured out what that story would look like, and then I found the right illustrator to bring it to life. As for a lot of the other creators, I reached out to folks from the DC Conspiracy and Locust Moon crews. The best resource I came across was the Boston Comics Roundtable - they are essentially the DC Conspiracy of Boston and consist of many different incredible cartoonists and writers. It was there that I found a lot of my contributors, people I've never worked with before, along with one of my assistant editors John Bell. I talked to John once and offered him the job, he was an amazing resource in this.
What were the most difficult aspects of putting this anthology together?

Probably working with people who never worked in comics before. There's a big difference between writing a history book and writing a comic script. We just needed small pieces of bigger stories and we needed to fit them into easy-to-read, 11-page comics stories. Schedules were difficult, as well - a lot of people taught and just simply didn't have the time to contribute on the level that would move the book along at a good pace. Also, I designed every page of the book and it turns out I'm a bit of a tinkerer. Two months before deadline I took the whole book part and rebuilt it with new intros, interstitials, book guides, and a reference section. I wouldn't say I'm my own worse enemy, but it turns out I'm definitely my own worst editor. 

How can Colonial Comics be used as a teaching tool?

It contextualizes history, plain and simple. When we were kids we loved the dioramas at history museums. A handful of cavemen taking down a Wooly Mammoth, we could stare at it for hours on end and build a story out of it. From there, we began to get interested in the details of the clothes and the weapons and the process of hunting. Comics afford kids that same luxury - they can study a panel, see what people were wearing and how they spoke. Get a sense of scale. All the while reading an entertaining narrative. From there, they may become interested in the details. The free-range animal husbandry story (which was illustrated by Mike Sgier) is a silent story about a troublesome pig who keeps eating Native crops. We see the escalation of destruction that eventually leads to Native American's packing up and moving westward. The story behind the story, and beyond the story, is where the real teaching comes in.
These comics can be used as a hook to get kids interested in history. Kind of like tricking them into learning a thing, and giving them several samples of topics to see what they're most interested in.

What are your future plans? Is this part of a series?

I have two more Colonial books coming out, one focusing on pre-Revolutionary New England and one focusing on Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region. I would like to do more, but let's see how these are received, first. The other history book I'm editing is a student's memoirs about growing up in war-torn Sarajevo, but that won't come out until 2016 or so, most likely.
Beyond history comics I'm also working with AAAS to do a science and science fiction comics gallery show and comics creation workshop, with the idea being to team kids up with scientists, writers, and illustrators to help them understand how science fact turns into science fiction and then mentor them in the creation of their own comics. We're still in the planning phases for this program and it will be starting some time next year.
Below are a few images from the book that Jason gave us to share with our readers.

1 comment:

Mike Rhode said...

Excellent job, Matt.