The eighth story in the book is “New Medicine,” written by Connecticut State Historian Walter Woodward, illustrated by Matt Dembicki (Wild Ocean, Xoc), colored by Arsia Rozegar (Hulk, Iron Man), and lettered by Jason Hanley. It’s about John Winthrop Jr., governor of the Connecticut colony, doctor, and alchemist.

Matt Dembicki was the guy who brought me to Fulcrum, and he offered to contribute to the anthology and asked if he could do something about Connecticut. We flirted with a couple of story ideas before I had the opportunity to approach Walter, who previously wrote a book about John Winthrop Jr. entitled Prospero’s America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676. We talked a bit on the phone about several possible story choices before settling on Winthrop Jr’s role as a doctor, which intersected with his role as an alchemist and his faith. Winthrop Jr. believed that medicine, alchemy, and faith were all essential to healing, and that you couldn’t have one without the other.

I really loved including this story, because it speaks to some of the early forays into real science in America, even if science in-and-of-itself wasn’t yet seen as the solution to life’s problems. Almost fifty years after Winthrop Jr’s death, medicine and religion famously butted heads when Cotton Mather (who, interestingly enough, was one of the driving forces behind the Salem Witch Trials) proposed inoculating New Englanders against smallpox epidemics due to some successful cases of inoculation recorded in England. It was a popular belief, at the time, that infecting a person with mild smallpox in order to prevent a more severe infection later was essentially doing harm to one’s neighbor and went against scripture. 

I suppose John Winthrop Jr was better at finding loopholes…

Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750 will be released in October from Fulcrum Books. You can pre-order it on Amazon now.

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The Design of the Book Part III: This One Design Element

I like it when an anthology don’t feel like an anthology. I like it when there’s a central them to the book (in this case, colonial New England), laid out in a way that makes sense (in this case, chronologically), with interstitials and design elements that work to bring the book together and make it feel like one continuous story that just happens to be told by a collection of talented creators. In order to do that, I first come up with some focal point, of sorts - a visual queue that can bring everything back to a theme before launching into the next section or story. 

This first book is all about establishing an American Identity. And part of it focuses on the bad stuff - the wars and the genocide, slavery and the treatment of women. But the book was never meant to give the impression that everything was evil, and that our very foundation was corrupt. I took a page from Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates to make sure that these earlier years were painted as a bit more nuanced. Because behind the scenes, you did have some social reformers and big thinkers and people who bucked the status quo. And that idea of making a better country, although muted and fought against at first, is really the foundation of the American Identity. And even though we’ve had a tumultuous history, and even though we’re still not anywhere near where we could be, there is still this inherent desire to be better that’s rooted in a large portion of our population. And, over time, the good ideas tend to win out, and we get closer to that idealized American Identity.

It feels like we inch towards the finish line, and that the finish line is constantly moving as new knowledge is made available to us, and in the moment it feels like we still have so far to go, but taken over the course of almost 400 years…we’ve gotten a lot closer. 

And what got us there? The ability to share ideas. And at first it was through town meetings and church assemblies, but we eventually started printing books and then newspapers and then magazines and eventually the internet comes along and now it becomes harder and harder to HIDE information, although it still seems like doing something with that information is sometimes impossible.

When I was a kid, my life was changed by EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth. That’s not an exaggeration. Before Spaceship Earth, I wanted to be a cowboy or a vampire hunter. After Spaceship Earth, I wanted to generate knowledge and share those ideas. It lead to two career paths, in a sense, one focused on science and one focused on writing. And in both of those paths, I had a core belief that sharing ideas and knowledge is a necessary part of the creation of an ideal society.

The Puritans, for all their faults, believed the same thing. They wrote down everything, and once they got a printing press they printed everything. And the first book that they printed was the Bay Psalm Book. And I decided that, since this first volume was ultimately about ideas, the Bay Psalm Book had to be the focal point of the design of this book.

So I grabbed a scan of the book, shown below…

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…and I isolated that one squiggly design element from the book and reproduced it in glorious 300DPI…

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…and then I used it. Over and over and over again. I used it on promo materials, I used it in interstials, I used it for the table of contents and the book guide and the reference section and the bios and acknowledgement pages. It was a tip-of-the-hat to the one thing that I feel will eventually bring us closer to that ideal American Identity. The desire within us to share everything we know, everything we feel, and everything we want.

But I doubt anyone will really see that unless I tell it to them…so, thankfully, it makes for a pretty fantastic border:

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Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750 will be released in October from Fulcrum Books. You can pre-order it on Amazon now.

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The seventh story in the book is “Maverick Island,” written by J.L. “John” Bell (Boston 1775) and illustrated by Joel Christian Gill (Strange Fruit, Tales of the Talented Tenth: Bass Reeves). John was also an assistant editor for the book, and was one of the first people I talked to when I was putting this book together. He asked me if he could do a story about Maverick Island, particularly the story of John Josselyn’s trip to New England where he visited Samuel Maverick. In Josselyn’s memoirs, he wrote about his interaction with a crying African woman, and Maverick’s desire to breed black men and women in order to create a continuous stream of free labor.

I was taken aback by this story, because when it comes to America’s history with slavery we tend to think about Virginia, Georgia, and other southern states. But here is one account in New England that supposedly took place years before the first documented cases in colonial America that declared someone a slave. 

I desperately wanted the story in the book and John desperately wanted to work with Joel.

I was at SPX in 2012 when my friend Mike Maguire suggested I check out “this one guy’s book.” It was a book called Strange Fruit, and it was about uncelebrated tales of African American history.  I went to “this one guy’s” table and purchased all of his books and read them at the bar. I fell in love.

"This one guy’s" name was familiar, so I searched my email to see if I ever talked to him in the past. Turns out, it was the guy John name dropped as his dream artist for this story.

"You’re Joel Gill, John’s friend!" I said to him. 

I was with John at that point, Joel needed to illustrate this story. Additionally, Fulcrum needed to see Strange Fruit. I introduced the two of them and now Joel is part of the Fulcrum family, Strange Fruit was collected earlier this year and Bass Reeves, the story about a black man who became the most successful Texas Ranger in history, the inspiration behind the Lone Ranger, comes out in the fall.

It’s funny how things go, sometimes. I teach a publishing class at Arlington Adult Ed and my students always ask me if it’s luck or talent that gets you published. I tell them that it’s talent and opportunity. I give the fictional anecdote about the writer at the bar after Book Expo America who finds himself next to an acquisition editor at Houghton Mifflin. The writer is talented, and spent five years working on a book about airplanes. He overhears the acquisition editor saying, “I can’t buy urban fantasy books fast enough. It’s the only category we’re making money on. I don’t have enough pitches to fill the demand.”

The writer, realizing his luck, turns to the editor and says, “You’re at Houghton Mifflin? I have this great book about airplanes.” He spends the rest of his life saying how he was never lucky enough to get published.

One day at SPX, a friend of mine casually told me about this one guy’s book, and I saw an opportunity for my book, my publisher, and that guy’s book. And all three of us are better for it.

Thankfully, I didn’t pitch him a story about airplanes. 

Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750 will be released in October from Fulcrum Books. You can pre-order it on Amazon now.

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Jason Rodriguez has edited a visually attractive book that will encourage young readers to acquire a more meaningful understanding of Colonial America’s history by helping make the stories come alive.
Julian L. Lapides, past president, Baltimore Heritage, American Antiquarian Society
This book is smart, surprising, fun and educational. Each story has its own visual and verbal style but all will delight, intrigue, and enlighten both novice and expert alike.
James David Moran, Director of Outreach, American Antiquarian Society

Next up is a story that’s pretty special to me, “The Press’s Widow: Elizabeth Glover” by Erika Swyler and Noel Tuazon. Early on in this project I was researching the printing industry in colonial New England and came across the story of Elizabeth Glover, the woman who brought the first printing press to New England. That’s essentially all I knew about her, and I asked Erika Swyler if she was up to the task of finding more information. 

I met Erika via tumblr, when she asked me if I could look over a short story she wrote about the ups and downs of a woman’s life over 84 years. I loved it and asked her to review the story that became The Little Particle That Could

Erika did a great job filling in the seemingly monumental gaps in Elizabeth Glover’s life. She discovered that Glover came over with her husband, who died on the trip, leaving her with a collection of kids, two debtors, and a printing press. The story ended up touching upon a lot of aspects of colonial life, including the difficulties women faced in opening and running businesses, the need to increase social stature by through marriage, the importance of the printed word, the early days of Harvard University, and the printing of the first book in the America, the Bay Psalm Book, a risky venture made when money was tight and which was riddled with errors. An original copy of the Bay Psalm Book recently sold at auction for $14-million. 

I paired her up with Noel Tuazon, who I’ve worked with many times. He was the illustrator of Elk’s Run, a book I edited, and he contributed to Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened. Also, he was the artist on the previously mentioned The Little Particle That Could

Together, they turned in a great story about a relatively unknown person who lived a truly remarkable life - which is really what this book is about, at the end of the day.

Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750 will be released in October from Fulcrum Books. You can pre-order it on Amazon now.

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The Design of the Book Part 2: Intro Pages

Way back in January I talked about the process behind Scott White’s cover. I’d like to pick up that thread, and do a couple of posts on the design of the book. So today I’ll be talking about the intro pages.

The intro page concept was cribbed from Matt Dembicki’s design of District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington DC, another Fulcrum book released in 2012.

Each story in the book has a one-page intro that gives some background info on the piece. I must have tried about twenty fonts for the intro pages before finally settling on Gilles Le Corre’s 1790 Royal Printing font. I ended up using that font for every non-comics page in the book. 

In addition to the text, each intro has a representative image from the story that sets the tone of the piece. So for “The Trial of Anne Hutchinson,” for example, I used the image of Anne Hutchinson being questioned and stripped out the background to give a sense of one woman, alone, staring down her accusers. image

 Finally, there are the maps. I love maps. Each intro page has a map that is representative of the time and location of the story. I got my hands on 19 maps in total, each one grabbed from the Norman P. Leventhal map center at the Boston Public Library. So for the Hutchinson story, I used Plan of Boston showing existing ways and owners on December 25, 1635 by George LambThis was one in a series of maps published between 1630 and 1645. I love these maps, because they show the names of the landowners in Boston and where they lived and you really get a sense of the rapid expansion of the colony. On the 1630 map, there were 34 land owners. On the 1645 map, there were 112 plots of land owned by English settlers, many of them split between multiple parties. 

On this map you can see Edward Hutchinson (#68, below), Anne’s oldest son who came to America one year before her, and Richard Hutchinson (#63) who I assume is another one of Anne’s sons who was admitted into the Church of Boston in 1634 before heading back to England.

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William Hutchinson, Anne’s husband, never showed up on any of these maps, and I assume that the deed was signed in Richard’s name since the location of the house (again, 63 on the map below) is around the corner from the first school site (the S on the below map) which is where Anne Hutchinson’s house was located (it was on the site of what is now the Old Corner Bookstore). 

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Needless to say, I spent a lot of time looking at maps. My favorite? A map of New-England, being the first that ever was here cut, and done by the best pattern that could be had, which being in some places defective, it made the other less exact, yet does it sufficiently shew the scituation of the country, and conveniently well the distance of places by John Foster which could have also been titled, “Look, this map is terrible but it’s not my fault, I swear.”

I mean, click on the link and look at the map. It’s truly terrible.

Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750 will be released in October from Fulcrum Books. You can pre-order it on Amazon now.

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The fifth story in the book is “The Trial of Anne Hutchinson” by Alexander Danner and Matt Rawson. It follows the Roger Williams story highlighted earlier this week and really works to accentuate the point that the Puritans of New England were not even remotely tolerant of thought and practice that deviated from the church’s doctrine. 

Alexander turned in his script a while ago, and it had a very classic feel to it. Lots of text and court scenes and a darker tone to the proceedings. Anne Hutchinson was tough, to say the least, and the more orthodox ministers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony started what was essentially a smear campaign to discredit her and her teachings before banishing her from the colony. And no matter what they threw at her, she never once backed down. They tried to pin crimes on her, but ultimately she was found guilty of being an assertive woman in a patriarchal society and, for that, she was banished to Roger Williams’s colony, Providence. 

Due to the nature of the story, I wanted something that was draped in cross-hatching, had wide, cinematic panels, minimal color, an an overall darker feel. Matt Rawson delivered on that perfectly, and even went a step further, hand-lettering the piece with a style that captured some of the great draftsmen of the early 1900s. The story looks like a reprint pulled from a newspaper a hundred years ago, but with a modern sensibility and scholarship applied. It’s a beast. 

Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750 will be released in October from Fulcrum Books. You can pre-order it on Amazon now.

Previously: 

This collection of stories about early New England will appeal to kids of all ages. These fascinating stories concern both well-known and little-known New Englanders, including settlers, slaves and Native Americans. We meet everyone from Anne Hutchinson to Yankee whalers. These engaging tales are beautifully illustrated and grounded in the latest scholarship. Highly recommended for kids of all ages!

Professor Frank Cogliano, University of Edingburgh.

First blurb!

The fourth story in the book is “Garden in the Wilderness” by Matt Boehm and Ellen T. Crenshaw. I met this couple at MICE 2012 after buying up every mini-comic they ever made, and was very excited to have them in the book. Matt is a tremendous writer and Ellen’s artwork reminds me a lot of Craig Thompson’s, which is one of the highest compliments I can give someone. They turned out a tremendous story about Roger Williams, who was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and founded Providence, RI - a settlement that became a beacon of religious freedom and really set the tone for the First Amendment of our Constitution.

As stated in the first feature, the Puritans of Massachusetts did not set out to create some utopia where individuals could worship religion freely. Their persecution of religious dissidents were extreme, leading to the eventual hanging of Mary Dyer and three other Quakers and, eventually, a proclamation from King Charles II that they were not allowed to execute Quakers. 

Williams’ fate wasn’t as violent, and in banishment he managed to found a colony with a completely different tone, one that attracted non-Puritans and even non-Christians. 

I love the way the story came out, so much so that it was used as the preview story in the free books we gave out at the American Library Association. Roger Williams is probably the most well-known colonist we wrote about in this book, but this story focuses on a little known facet of his story - his trip back to England to secure the patent for Providence. 

Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750 will be released in October from Fulcrum Books. You can pre-order it on Amazon now.

Previously: