Real Life Revolutionaries

In Taxes, The Tea Party, and Those Revolting Rebels, I tell the basic history of the Revolutionary era—which, by the way, corrects distortions coming from certain politicians who promote history through the filter of their own ideologies.

But I was also after something else; to go back in time with my reporter’s pad and “humanize” the story—to get closer to the real people behind the great events…and show the Founding Fathers without their pedestals.

For example, look at Paul Revere. Paul’s not on a level with George W. or Thomas J. in importance, but he’s an iconic name in our history—a craftsman who committed himself to the rebellion. Thanks to our grade-school social studies classes and the poet Longfellow, we know of his famous night ride, alerting the countryside around Boston to the approach of the British army.

And we’ve heard about the two lanterns that were lit in the Old North Church steeple that set Revere’s ride in motion. (By the way, when he kissed his wife and children goodbye that night, he knew he would be a fugitive from British law.) Here’s an image from Susan Champlin’s and my graphic novel for young people, Road to Revolution!:

This is how I introduce Paul in Taxes…:

So here’s a solid citizen, a highly skilled silversmith, a family man with seven kids, a second wife (his first wife died after the birth of one of their children), a house and a business to support, who made false teeth to add to his income.

Yet Paul allied himself with the rebels. He became their go-to messenger, sneaking out of town, shuttling back and forth among colonies, all under the noses of the British high command. Willing to expose himself to prison, or worse, he obviously believed deeply in the ideals they were fighting for.

Here’s Paul agreeing to a messenger job. The sign is authentic:

When I was researching this book, I stumbled on something that put an exclamation point on the everyday pressures faced by all these early revolutionaries.

In the Forbes Galleries in New York City, there’s an expense report from Paul Revere to the rebel leaders of Boston (who themselves had to find a way to fund their rebellion). I imagined Paul, back home after another risky ride, writing out a voucher for the cost of feed for his horse…:

No superhero, but a blood and guts real person.

The Kick-off

Real life is comic, sad, ironic, extravagant; it moves fast and takes you by surprise. It’s ready made for my real life funnies comic strips. When I was roughing out “Taxes, the Tea Party, and those Revolting Rebels,” I struggled with how to kick off the story. History lies flat on the page. It doesn’t emote in front of you like real life does.

When it came to that crucial first page, I knew the facts I wanted to present, but how to do it in a way the modern reader would get. After gallons of coffee, an Out-Takes strip I did for Adweek magazine jumped into my head. The story took place at the end of the shooting of a TV commercial. I’ve included it here.

I thought, how classic, massaging the client…until the client walks out the door. Who hasn’t temporarily pasted a smile on his or her face and then been glad to pull it off? I translated that moment back in time to Colonial days and had my first page.