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Grains of salt

Note: this is republished from my mailing list.

Hello friends, new and old!

Before we dive in: I have read so much good archaeological news this month! 

Back to comics!

This. Frog. Unai is continuing to kill it on the inks and layouts for Issue #1. Here's a peek at the latest from pages 7 and 8:

AH! Let's have a closer look...

...AHHH it's so cute!

In celebration of this sweet, terrified creature, I'd like to share a bit more about process. I'm going to skip over the long months spent reading Scott McCloud and Alan Moore and Jim Zub to make sure my script looked remotely professional, and the creation of the index card issue map I now have taped above my desk like some bargain bin detective on a murder case. Let's start here:

A panel description! This is what Unai got from me in the script for Issue 1, several dozen times over. Each page has between one and 7 panels (Page 8 has six; this is just the first). From the script he roughs out a layout:

When Unai sends me a page layout, he'll sometimes ask a question, or I'll have a piece of feedback to incorporate into the final inks. Usually, though, it looking pretty f*cking good! And then a few hours later, he sends the inked version:

Working collaboratively this way has been delightful so far! One mistake I made, and happily fixed, early on was writing the script for the reader, rather than the artist. Which, in retrospect, duh: like an actor or a director, the artist needs to know all of the secrets, so that they can work their own magic and leave breadcrumbs, handle suspense, and add subtle clues to the characters and the landscapes.

I've also learned a lot so far about how to give enough detail while leaving room for interpretation. Speaking of creative interpretation:

Let's talk about lying and the historical record! In my completely unprofessional opinion as a non-historian, what we have of history written by ancient Romans is mostly lies.

Ok! I'm being uncharitable. What we have of history written by ancient Romans is mostly literature and propaganda. 

The Romans were very good at writing stuff down, which is a neat trick if you want your empire discussed on your terms for millennia. But what they called "histories" were often written years (sometimes decades!) after the events happened, by people who didn't witness what they're writing about, and who got their information from people who said they were there. Relying on the ten-year old memories of soldiers and eyewitnesses: surely perfectly accurate!

In terms of having evidence for things that happened recently, we of 2018 are far afield from just about every generation in human history: we keep exhaustive records. A whole lot of us are able to record ourselves and the world around us constantly, and to access and share those recordings whenever we want. Which, somehow, has led to a lot of pedantry and the development of tools to edit and fabricate videos and photos, rather than lasting peace and accord. Ah, people! We like to have fun.

For much of human history, when people wrote something down that wasn't outright mythologizing (lookin' at you, Catholic saints), I think it's safe to assume they were probably making a lot of it up as they went along. Romans of the second century have a hundred-plus year gap in their record of their own kings of the fourth century BC, which they just kind of gloss over, as though it's fine to assume that some of those kings lived for a hundred and fifty years. They said their city was founded by two very touchy wolf boys, but also maybe by escaping Trojans. When writing about Rome's early years, they re-cast what were probably small tribal raids as epic battles-in-formation. And we don't actually know for sure if it was Brennus and the Gallic Celts who actually sacked Rome in 390 BC. Could have been some tribe from elsewhere on the Italian peninsula! Or maybe it was entirely made up to justify a later conquest of the Gauls! I truly do not know, and lots of Romans probably didn't, either.

To be fair, the logistics of writing down the details of a battle that happened ten years ago on another continent in the 2nd century are pretty impossible. How would you start? How do you find supporting evidence? Why are you writing about it in the first place? If you're in ancient Rome or colonial anywhere you're probably doing so to further some political end or another, so you'll be making lots of decisions: were your enemies noble and brave? Or did they not pay their taxes? Is there another war on, and is everyone real sick of it, or are you trying to sell a new one? In some cases, it might be cool to give your enemy commander an epic speech to really put a bow on that victory.

If you're looking for inviolable facts in the writings of ancient historians, good luck to you, pure soul, and I guess trust the archaeological record (unless it was analyzed before, oh, let's say 1980 to be safe) first, warehouse inventory tablets second, and Mary Beard third. I'm not being a punk: this is an opinion I'm borrowing from the work of actual historians and archaeologists I've read.

If you're less interested in inviolable facts and more interested in why people chose to write down what they did, then these Roman histories are pretty great for that. There's so much negative space around the actions that are written about and commented on by Dio Cassius and Tacitus and Pliny, and my main concern in writing about the Romans writing about the Celts is trying to figure out what might be in all of that negative space.

Boudicca might not have even existed! Which means I, too, get to make shit up.

Moving on to Boudicca and speeches There are two main Roman sources of information on Boudicca: Tacitus, writing in AD 120, and Cassius Dio, writing in the late 100s/early 200s AD. 

First, here's Boudicca's weirdly third person speech rallying her troops, as recorded by Tacitus in his Annals (translation by Arthur Murphy, 1794):

"This," she said, "is not the first time that the Britons have been led to battle by a woman. But now she did not come to boast the pride of a long line of ancestry, nor even to recover her kingdom and the plundered wealth of her family. She took the field, like the meanest among them, to assert the cause of public liberty, and to seek revenge for her body seamed with ignominious stripes, and her two daughters infamously ravished. From the pride and arrogance of the Romans nothing is sacred; all are subject to violation; the old endure the scourge, and the virgins are deflowered. But the vindictive gods are now at hand. A Roman legion dared to face the warlike Britons: with their lives they paid for their rashness; those who survived the carnage of that day, lie poorly hid behind their entrenchments, meditating nothing but how to save themselves by an ignominious flight. From the din of preparation, and the shouts of the British army, the Romans, even now, shrink back with terror. What will be their case when the assault begins? Look round, and view your numbers. Behold the proud display of warlike spirits, and consider the motives for which we draw the avenging sword. On this spot we must either conquer, or die with glory. There is no alternative. Though a woman, my resolution is fixed: the men, if they please, may survive with infamy, and live in bondage."


Now let's take a gander at the description Cassius Dio gave of Boudicca, about 150 years after she died (unsure of translator here):

"But the person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans, the person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Boudicca, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women...In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire."

If you believe that Tacitus had access to someone who knew someone who was actually there for that battle and spoke Common Brittonic and heard, remembered, and relayed her speech perfectly, and Tacitus did not embellish anything I have some cryptocurrency to sell you.

What I wonder is what these two dudes had to gain by writing about a woman warrior routing their armies and sacking their cities before ultimately being defeated by the heroic A-team? It wouldn't have been difficult to swap her gender, but they chose to write about her as physically imposing and capable, the opposite of the idea of Roman womanly virtue. Boudicca's story always seems to appear within larger records of history, and isn't given a lot of attention compared to other campaigns. I haven't found other historical Roman records of women who were warriors besides stories about the Amazons, who were maybe based on the Scythians but probably weren't real, and were also used as bogeywomen. But she's painted as a noble enemy with real grievances. Maybe for them she's a side note, a commentary on the place of women and on barbarism, or maybe she's the equivalent of a 2nd century political cartoon? Or maybe she was real, and became mythologized because to Roman eyes and ears she was so strange? I certainly can't make a call based on Dio and Tacitus alone.

There's plenty to say about what the coins and ashes and bones imply about what may have happened before and during the battles in Britain in AD 60, but I'll save that for a later email because my god, I talk a lot.

Thanks for reading!

Not very tall but in appearance most terrifying anyway, Honor


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