When construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began in 1869, its designers and builders - John Roebling and his son Washington - couldn’t possibly foresee the obstacles that would stand in their way. All they knew was that New York needed a better conduit between Manhattan and Brooklyn, something more reliable and useable than the ferries that had been the lone method of transit to that point. Of course, selling the bridge to members of the city council with interest in the ferry business was only the first obstacle in a process that would kill one Roebling and leave another sick and unable to oversee the final stages of its building, setting the stage for Washington Roebling’s wife Emily to oversee the final stages of construction.
The fascinating, tragic, and uplifting story of the Brooklyn Bridge’s creation is told in The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York, a recent graphic novel from Abrams ComicArts by acclaimed comic book writer and editor Peter J. Tomasi and newcomer Sara Duvall. Tomasi, a native New Yorker whose lengthy list of credits include hit work on Superman, Batman and Robin, and Green Lantern Corps, alongside creator-owned projects The Mighty, The Light Brigade, and House of Penance, had known the Roeblings’ story for years. He first put it to paper seventeen years ago.
“I first wrote The Bridge as a screenplay, which ended up on The Black List, a list of the best unproduced screenplays of that year. I always thought that The Bridge would make a great film – at its heart it’s a great romantic story wrapped up in an epic adventure,” Tomasi explained to CBR. “Its message of grit, persistence and perseverance is something the world needs more of at every turn.”
That message of perseverance and creation weighed very heavily on the first screenplay incarnation, which Tomasi set down in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. “I was working in the DC Comics offices at the time, so I was here in New York City,” he said. “I had been procrastinating for quite awhile in completing the script, afraid if I could do the story of the Roeblings and the Bridge’s construction justice, but that fear got swept aside when I saw the NY Times front page the next morning which showed the North Tower already having been hit and the South Tower in the midst of being hit, it’s eastern façade engulfed by the second plane’s fiery explosion and there in the foreground the Brooklyn Bridge. We of course shortly learned, that the Brooklyn Bridge was on a terrorist target list too.
“I desperately wanted to contribute to the World Zeitgeist a story of construction – not destruction.”
Although the film version has not yet manifested, Tomasi remained determined to bring the story to audiences. “I finally had the epiphany that after two decades in comics maybe I should bring the screenplay to life graphically instead of waiting around for Hollywood,” he confessed. “Having this story that means so much to me visualized by an artist was suddenly my one and only mission – I had to get it into readers hands any way that I could. I was tired of seeing the script on my shelf. I needed someone to breathe life into these characters by putting pictures to my words. I wanted to share this amazing American story that no one really knows about.”