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The problem with endpapers

Recently, the history blog 1776 questioned the validity of my use of beards in the Crogan series, the primary concern being that both David and Jonathon Crogan have them despite living in the mid-eighteenth century, in which beards were rarely, if ever, sported by English citizens, even those on the fringes of society.

And the thing is… the writer, J.L. Bell, is absolutely right.

I’ve talked at length about the genesis of the Crogan family tree in interviews (here, here, and here, if interested), but one thing I haven’t talked about is the age at which I conceived it – twenty-four – and the challenges that it now presents me.

The first point – the age – is of note because, however interested in history I was, I had but a cursory understanding of a great deal of it. I’d spent a lot of time researching pirates, the Crusades, and the mid-to-late nineteenth century British Empire, but aside from that the majority of my knowledge was peripheral at best. This means that a few of the characters portrayed in the family tree are going to require some creative solutions in order to make them jive with both real history AND with what will deliver the most entertaining (and genre-satisfying) narrative, which is where the challenges come in. 

Take, for example, Peter Crogan.  Originally I had his endpaper picture dated 1922 - luckily I'd begun researching the Legion before Vengeance was published, and discovered the the emotionally satisfying navy blue coats fell out of service during WWI.  I'd always thought of the Legion as a twenties thing, but thankfully I was able to revise the tree before the first book saw press.  Now, however, I'm stuck with whatever mistakes I've made, but rather than thinking of them AS mistakes I prefer to think of them as challenges.

The most pressing of these challenges is one of the points of contention raised by Mr. Bell, namely the beard and outfit of Jonathon Crogan. Though the buckskin has precedence, I picked the hat and beard at random, and both have proven anachronistic. My thought, at the time of the initial drawing, was that the French and Indian War was going on in the late 1750s, and that most of the men on the frontier would have been the trappers and hunters of popular imagination.

Now, while the presence of trappers and hunters is without doubt, the ones most often documented and popularized (with the furry hats and furry faces) date from the 1820s – some seventy years after my character’s visage is depicted.

This is going to require some sort of rectification, but my ideal is to create a solution in which the anachronism is explained away rather than disowned. Perhaps this picture is following a long trek, before razor’s return, or maybe Jonathon lost a bet requiring him to forgo shaving for a full year. Whatever the cause, I hope that readers will have confidence that I will do all in my power to ensure historical accuracy, including matters of hirsutism.  And, as I've mentioned, the years shown in the endpapers are not necessarily when the books themselves will take place

With each new volume I am confronted with the sheer joy and overwhelming terror of engulfing myself in an entirely new period, and in learning about said period I often find out information that requires me to take the project in a different direction that originally intended – the current project is a testament to that. I am by no means a historian – I am an entertainer, but part of my job is to make sure that those who ARE historians have as much if not more enjoyment than the general populace, free of inaccuracies except when narratively unavoidable, and in such instances I hope to make certain that the spirit of the time and people involved are depicted justly, if not factually.

Comments

I feel your anguish, Chris! I started The Rainbow Orchid 14 years ago, yet the first volume (finished in 2003) was only published last year. When I started, my research was not as all-consuming as it is now. The panel featuring the Kalasha tribeswoman in my vol 1 is almost certainly wearing a modern gown - as I researched the people in more detail for volume 3 I discovered that back in the 1920s and earlier they wouldn't have had access to the brightly coloured dyed fabric they're now able to use since the roads were opened in the late 1970s/early 80s. So I've got it right in volume 3, but boy that volume 1 niggles!

And I love your attitude to the challenge - I agree. I had an email pointing out another volume 1 mistake - the fact that I had given one of my characters two conflicting titled names (Earl of... and Lord...). As the writer was obviously an expert on these matters, I asked his advice of how such a thing could possibly happen, and developed it to explain the character's backstory (there's no room for it in the strip, but if anyone challenges me on it again I have an answer).

Just two examples, but it's nice to know you're not alone. Research is one of the most time-consuming aspects to historical storytelling, sometimes frustrating as you try try to find the most elusive facts with limited resources (I've got second-hand books from across the world on all kinds of ridiculous subjects) - but also fun and highly rewarding, despite going unnoticed by the majority of your readership (as it should).

Sorry for the long comment. Look out if I meet you one day (I hope so), I think we may have a lot to talk about :-)
I meant to add - we can only try our best, you could spend all your time researching and leave no time for the storytelling, which is the main thing, of course.
Really? You know fantasy fans who aren't prissy? Show 'em to me.
Fine news! I'm looking forward to the brothers’ Revolutionary conflict. Having decided in midlife to research the hell out of one period, I admire the ambition to research many.

What’s more, graphic artists, like reenactors, have to find answers for questions that many verbal historians never have to address. I call it the “pants problem.” A historian can write a biography of John Adams without ever describing the pants he wore. But anyone portraying Adams in a visual format had darn well better choose some type of pants.

(As for fantasy comics, I can be equally prissy about them (http://ozandends.blogspot.com/2008/12/last-but-not-least-courageous-princess.html).)

J. L. Bell
Jon is an eccentric. Legends of him filtered through time via word of mouth and eventual morphed into the incorrect stereotypes of today! BAM!
Catfoot

July 2013

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