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INTERVIEW: Brian Wood Returns to Rebels with the Next Generation

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comic News Comment
INTERVIEW: Brian Wood Returns to Rebels with the Next Generation

After a year-long hiatus, Brian Wood and Andrea Mutti are returning to Dark Horse Comics this spring for a second volume of their popular historical fiction series “Rebels.”

In the first volume, “Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia,” Seth Abbott fought with a militant group known as the Green Mountain Boys to help his fellow Americans win their independence in 1775. Leaping forward two decades to 1794, “Rebels: These Free and Independent States” follows Seth and Mercy Abbott’s son John, who is coming of age in step with the birth of a new nation.

Set partly aboard the very real U.S.S. Constitution, one of Navy’s famous first six frigates, Wood told CBR the new volume, which launches on March 22, will also explore piracy on the high seas, the Quasi-War between United States and France, the abolitionist movement and the events leading up to the War of 1812. The second volume will also feature more adventures starring the fictional Seth Abbott, as well as a brash, young soldier named George Washington.

CBR: There were some reports that “Rebels” was canceled, but did you always know that you were going to come back to the series?

Brian Wood: I always made it clear that more “Rebels” was coming and there were no official reports of cancellation. Andrea Mutti and I always had the intention to make this thing run for as long as possible with multiple seasons. I found when I was writing my Norse historical series “Northlanders” that the longer it ran, the more stories you can tell, and the fuller a picture it paints of the history. I wanted that for “Rebels.”

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Is a series like “Rebels” more or less relevant now that Donald Trump is President of the United States? Having read about your politics, he’s a man I believe that you would have voted against last year.

History is always relevant, and popular media is saturated with historical facts and elements. This saturation is evident not only in comics but in politics, television, video games, print media and Broadway musicals. The Tea Party Movement back in 2009 really went all in with the revolutionary imagery, often to a silly degree, but always with the intent on linking this history to right-wing politics, often to the exclusion of anything else. That bothered me, since I consider myself to be not only a lefty in the Bernie Sanders mold, but a patriot, a patriotic person. I’ve found that a lot of people assume those two things can’t coexist, so that’s part of the reason why “Rebels” was created.

What can we learn today from the men and women (and boys and girls) that built the United States 238 years ago?

Civics. You have to engage and make your voice heard. And posting to your personal choir on social media doesn’t count as civic engagement.

“Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia” was powerful not only for its historical relevance and storytelling, but also because you provided an incredibly detailed and moving account of Seth Abbott’s life. While historical figures like George Washington and Benedict Arnold play minor roles in the series, why was it important for you to ground the series in a fictional character like Seth Abbott?

Creating Seth Abbot was partly to give myself a break – a fictional character allows us to tell the story we all want to tell without being trapped by historical facts and having my hands tied narratively. I mean, the Green Mountain Boys were real, as was Ethan Allen and the “noble train of artillery,” but I wanted to be control of the personal narrative of the main character. Seth needed to be a sort of everyman. I also wanted to be able to filter some of my own stories of Vermont childhood, the history that excites me, and the locations I know personally into that narrative.

Did you research the Green Mountain Boys and develop Seth as a composite character based actual members? I actually did a little research myself and found the name Seth Warner. Any relation here?

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Seth Warner was a cool guy, and he’s actually going to make an appearance in a later issue of this next round of “Rebels.” Seth Abbot remains entirely fictional.

I was happy to learn that the Abbott family story continues in “Rebels: These Free and Independent States” with the adventures of John Abbott, Seth’s son. Is Seth still alive when the new volume opens?

Yes, and we see Seth and Mercy and that same house in the woods. When we left them, Seth’s son John was about 5 or 6 years old. We pick up again when he’s about ten.

What can you tell us about John now that he has become a young man? He was certainly a special young boy when we first met him in Volume 1. Is he like his father or more like his mother, Mercy Abbott, another powerful character?

John’s really his own person. He would absolutely have been somewhere on the Autistic behavioral spectrum, probably Asperger’s Syndrome if they’d had the knowledge to diagnose him back then. This new story will track John as he grows up and passes through some major historical events. However, his personal journey includes dealing with these events but also standing out, struggling to fit in, to communicate, to find his place, and to find a home for his talents.

In the new series, John signs up to defend his nation by joining America’s first navy, the Six Frigates. While so much of the first series was set in the Northern wilderness and the city streets of New York and Boston, is it safe to assume that much of this next volume will be set at sea?

I’d say half and half. John is apprenticed to the shipyard that built the U.S.S. Constitution — Old Ironsides — so we see that built and eventually sailed on. However, there’s much more to it than that. We have the great political divide of the day, often boiled down to the contrast between Hamilton’s Federalist stance and the more states-oriented Democratic-Republicans that Jefferson and Madison pushed for, manifesting in street rallies and back-of-the-pub arguments. We had the piracy in the Barbary states against American merchant ships, the Quasi-War in the Caribbean, John making a couple friends in the abolitionist movement, and the great lead-up to the War of 1812, America’s second war with England.

What do these new settings allow for you as a storyteller?

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I was attracted to the idea that these people had this massive rebellion and beat a global empire for their independence, which is truly a unique event in the history of the world. But now they have to actually make a new country and run it, and in doing so, determine what the national identity actually is. In my eyes, a lot of our national identity was determined in the lead-up to 1812 with American’s defining their lines, what they would and would not tolerate, and testing this new political system. We see John Abbott grow up and find his way as a young America does.

I think it goes without saying that America is still trying to figure it out, the American experiment.

Will John be a crew member aboard the Constitution, or will he be manning a fictional composite frigate?

The U.S.S. Constitution. He was a young apprentice when the keel was laid down, and put his blood, sweat and tears into the thing. A big part of this story deals with what happens when he realizes he won’t be taking it to sea. He feels like he owns it.

Will this series contain done-in-one, stand alone stories like the first volume?

Yes, just like the first series, we’ll have the one big story, and then a few one-shots to help paint that fuller picture I mentioned. I’m still nailing down some of the details on some of them, but I can say one will deal with a young George Washington, well before he became that “venerated Virginian veteran” and was just this brash rich kid that single-handedly caused the French and Indian War. That’s a true fact!

Will Andrea be illustrating all eight issues, or will the series feature other artists, as well?

Andrea will do the main story, and we’ll get a couple guests in like we did in the first series. I really loved that about my time on “Northlanders” and on “Rebels.” A variety of story topics is great, but a variety of art styles really makes the anthology format sing. Lauren Affe will color the stories. Jared K. Fletcher is back to letter it, and Matt Taylor is doing all the covers for the series.

“Rebels: These Free and Independent States” launches March 22.

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