SDCC Exclusive: Brian Wood Sets Revolutionary War-Era Series REBELS for Dark Horse Comics
By Dan Casey on July 16, 2014
“War. War never changes.” The opening lines of the Fallout series may seem glib at a glance, but there is truth in those four words. History is cyclical by nature and, at times, it seems like we’re doomed to repeat it. Although it has been 238 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution and the spirit of that era are capturing the national imagination right now, both in terms of entertainment and in our political landscape. It is a phenomenon that has not gone unnoticed, and today we are proud to exclusively announce that writer Brian Wood will be plumbing the depths of the era’s rich history with Rebels, a new ongoing series from Dark Horse Comics launching in April 2015. Teaming up with illustrator Andrea Mutti and colorist Jordie Bellaire, Wood’s forthcoming series will explore the lives of soldiers, ordinary colonists, and the extraordinary men and women that lived and died during the Revolutionary War era.
With the announcement of Rebels, the question remains: why are we so focused on this period of time? Moreover, why is it important to write about and for people to learn about? Wood, himself, was born and raised in Vermont, as he explained over e-mail. “This history was not only around me in the form of landmarks and street names and graveyards and so on, but it was a real focus in school,” he said. “We learned it all, both the local history and the national history of this era. Even typing about it now, it gives me goosebumps. I love this stuff. So for me personally, its always been there.”
As for why the American Revolution is smack dab in the middle of the national zeitgeist, Wood says that you can lay the blame/thanks at the feet of the Tea Part movement. “What they do with it is mostly a perversion, a gross one, but it has caused a response and part of that response has been a focus on and an appreciation for the actual history, not the twisted version,” said Wood. “We have all these books now (including the excellent The Whites Of Their Eyes by Jill Lepore), we have the television show Turn on AMC, we have Assassin’s Creed… so for every idiot who shows up at some hateful rally in a tricorn hat, we have people who are seriously looking at his history through the perspective of the time we live in now.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Rebels is a project born of passion for both history and country. “It was important for me to write about this on a personal level because I love this history and I’m proud to be associated with it,” Wood said. “I also want to be a positive agent for it,” he explained, “to show everyone why its so great and so important, and why its resonating so much these days.”
With his Viking epic Northlanders and his modern day thriller DMZ, Wood has proven that he is no stranger to taking a piece of history, modern or ancient, and putting it under the microscope. When it came to tackling a new piece of historical fiction, it was a no-brainer that he wanted to shine a light on the American Revolution. “I’ve had the idea for AGES to write an Ethan Allen story,” Wood explained, “and I made a couple attempts at a screenplay trying to tell a very epic, visceral Ridley Scott type of story about the guy. I couldn’t quite figure it out but its been in the back of my head all this time.”
This isn’t just Wood trying to do Northlanders: The Revolutionary War as it is him “trying to recapture what [he] liked so much about Northlanders.” Wood confessed that he misses Northlanders a great deal, but what Rebels shares with its predecessor is more structural than tonal. Andrea Mutti will serve as the series primary artist, illustrating multiple arcs across the series. Mutti will illustrate an entire arc, then rotate out to allow a guest artist to come in, allowing Wood the opportunity for stand-alone stories and other creative voices as well. Still, “the bulk of it will be drawn by Andrea,” Wood said, “Jordie Bellaire is coloring it, she’s great, and Tula Lotay will be doing the covers.”
Whereas Northlanders is full of hard men with healthy appetites for violence and mouths saltier than most sailors, Rebels will be significantly more family-friendly. “I’m making a point to write this all-ages,” Wood explained, “mostly meaning that I’ll dial back the language and strive for accuracy in a way that will give this mass appeal and find a good place in libraries and in schools.” If you’re having flashbacks to 8th grade history class, don’t worry. It won’t be all-ages “in the Illustrated Classics way, like a classroom reader,” said Wood. “I want Rebels to come off as cool and risky as Northlanders was, but with reverence and responsibility. The viking age was a thousand years ago so I could be as fast and loose with it as I wanted, but this here is recent history, our shared history, and I need to really make sure we do it right.”
Although the series will be focused on doing justice to the events of the past, it will still draw plenty of parallels to present day and the ways in which American Revolutionary rhetoric is contorted for modern political gain. “The first story arc of Rebels is called ‘A Well Regulated Militia’, and believe me, that was very specifically chosen to direct confront how loaded that phrase is these days,” Wood explained. “The Green Mountain Boys were America’s first militia, and its important to ME to draw a very clear line between that and the guys that show up to Obama rallies with assault rifles on their backs, using that phrase to justify acting out.” Don’t let that scare you off though; it isn’t all about making a statement though, Wood concedes. “I think there is a lot to be said for playing it straight, for simply telling it like it is/was and not trying to turn it into some modern day partisan parable.” Rather, the writer wants to “be honest about history, both in terms of showing the mistakes and the contradictions” and prevent it from becoming a “‘we fought and won our freedoms!’ type of rah-rah one-note message.”
Judging by the script for the first issue and the series pitch document I read, Rebels will be anything but one note. The first story arc, “A Well Regulated Militia”, is decidedly about the war and follows a young couple as they live through it. It is, admittedly, “designed to have mass appeal”, but once Wood and company nails down their formula, they will branch into other types of stories. “I really consider this series to be more of a look at colonial times than just revolutionary times,” said Wood, “and I have notes for stories about labor unions, women’s roles, native Americans, French and Indian war, even Lewis and Clark, if I want to move that far ahead. And of course I’ll write a few stories from the British side of things.”
Sure, there are plenty of stories from that era just waiting to be told, but where did Rebels come from? A prolific writer in his own right, the inspiration for Rebels actually came from his contemporaries. “I read my friends’ books, I always have,” Wood explained, “so it’s mostly creator owned books, a lot of the new stuff from Image and Dark Horse.” These books are “all really part of the inspiration for Rebels“, according to Wood. “It’s a time when creators can do all their weird and random comics ideas and find a lot of success, so I wanted to similarly swing for the fences.”
In order to bring Rebels to life, Wood enlisted an international coalition of creative talent in the form of Italian illustrator and DMZ collaborator Andrea Mutti and Ireland-based colorist Jordie Bellaire.
Interestingly enough, Mutti is quite the Revolutionary War buff himself. “Yes, it’s true! I am a real fan of this period,” he explained over e-mail. “It’s a dusty, violent period of the United States’ history, but at the same time rich with great people that built a nation. It is a period of changes, of genial men and women that fight for the future, pioneers of new lands and of a new way of life. It’s an ancient melting pot of a new generation of men and women, and a great story can be told with all of these elements,” said Mutti.
Wood also mentioned in an e-mail that Mutti had sent him a picture of himself wielding a musket when he originally pitched the project to him, so naturally I had to ask if we could see it. Thankfully, the artist obliged:
“We have a young nation that is beginning to have a personal identity,” said Mutti. “It’s like a great human and social saga, full of details and full of people that fight, and die, for freedom,” he continued. Nailing all the period details is a definite challenge for the artist, but with a deep, abiding interest in the era and enough research materials to open a small museum, he is more than up to the task. Likewise, colorist Jordie Bellaire, although new to the project, is confident in her creative cohorts, saying, “I’m not sure where we’re going yet. I’m hoping to do something that’s slightly more natural and earthy, but also utilize fresh exciting colors where appropriate.”
Considering the Revolutionary War covers such a wide array of themes like independence, family, honor, and community, and a vast span of time, to boot, it can be difficult to unpack it all. So, what does Wood want readers to take away from Rebels when they finally get their hands on it? “First and foremost, I want people to come away knowing something they didn’t know before,” he said. “That sounds dry, like I mean this as a lesson, but that’s not it,” he continued. “I think all of this is incredible and amazing and I want to share that. I also want to show that the guy who took a scorched earth approach to American politics in DMZ can celebrate it all at the same time here in Rebels, that I’m not just a critic and a pessimistic, but have a patriotic streak a mile wide.”
While we are just at the beginning of Rebels journey, I asked Wood where he’d like to see the series go, and the answer, apart from pull lists across the country, is in schools. “There’s no higher honor than to see Rebels in an elementary or middle school library,” Wood explained. “So just like I took out Johnny Tremain novels and Ethan Allen bios and Sword Of The Wilderness and James Fenimore Cooper, someone can maybe take out Rebels and read it.” Using comics as a medium for social good and the betterment of tomorrow’s youth? Well, now, there’s a message that I think we can all get behind.
Brian Wood, Andrea Mutti, and Jordie Bellaire’s Rebels will be available April 2015 from Dark Horse Comics.
What moments of Revolutionary War-era history would you like to see the team tackle? Let us know in the comments below.