In 1870 Congress passed a law making Independence Day (that’s July 4, in case you weren’t sure) a federal holiday. Since then many of us get that day off and spend it eating grilled meats, watching fireworks and enjoying activities associated with summer. While there is a nebulous love of country in the air (stars and stripes tank top anyone?), the original intent of the holiday often isn’t the focus. The holiday was declared to commemorate the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopting the Declaration of Independence and announcing the colonies’ separation from Great Britain. But a history lesson doesn’t really say “summer fun.”
Fortunately both summer fun and colonial history are available in a very American medium — comics. I spent much of my youthful summers reading comics — regularly biking in the heat to spend my lawn mowing money at the comics shop — and I don’t think I’m alone in that experience. Now you can enjoy the thrill of comics and immerse yourself in our nation’s early history with the series “Rebels” by Brian Wood. The series takes a period of history very familiar to most of us from grade school and creates a fresh take in both the form it’s presented and from the perspectives the stories are told.
The first volume, “A Well-Regulated Militia,” follows a newly-married couple living in an area known as the New Hamphshire Grants (now Vermont) as the War for Independence intrudes upon their lives. When the Green Mountain Boys militia joins the war, Seth Abbott is forced to leave his wife Mercy behind to manage their homestead alone. The activities of the Green Mountain Boys provide a window into historic battles where figures such as John Adams and George Washington make appearances. However, the focus is on sacrifices and contributions from ordinary people rather than from high-profile historical figures and shows our history from a different perspective than the hagiographies we often get.
The second volume, “These Free and Independent States,” introduces the reader to Mercy and Seth Abbott’s son John as he comes of age in the early days of our country. John’s single-minded obsession with ships gets him an apprenticeship with a ship builder at a time when Congress is debating the formation of a navy. Terrorism on the high seas and aggression from other nations pushes Congress to create a navy. Eventually America is embroiled in the War of 1812, and another member of the Abbott clan is risking their life for this country.
These two stories about the Abbotts make up the majority of these books, but each also contain standalone stories that further flesh out the historical period. The first volume contains stories about women at the battlefront, Native Americans and former slaves. The second tells stories about a young George Washington in Colonial America, orphan children trying to keep their family’s farm during the War for Independence and another story of the sacrifices made by the Green Mountain Boys. These stories maintain Wood’s ground-level perspective on this period of history while adding further dimensions to the people affected during the formation of our country.
So this summer, before the fireworks displays start, kick back in a lawn chair with some hot dogs and comic books tales about our nation’s beginning, just as the founding fathers always intended.