It’s time to go back to the future … history can save the day
[SEATTLE, WA, July 12, 2018—] It’s finally happened. The superhero saturation point is here. So what’s next? According to writer Tom Durwood, publisher of Empire Studies Press, the future of comics is in the past.” He believes the cure for “superhero burnout” lies in illustrator Hal Foster’s legacy – specifically his classic Sunday comic strip “Prince Valiant.”
Foster delivered an entirely different type of storytelling than the traditional superhero narrative. He rendered the heroic tales of Prince Valiant in quiet, detailed, slow-to-develop storylines. This is where Durwood comes in. He is continuing in Foster’s footsteps with his own creations.
In “The Caliph’s Gift and Four More Stories,” Durwood has worked with five contemporary artists to adapt his stories set against the rise and fall of empires past. He says it’s a huge challenge because “the regular superhero and game-play stuff you see is easier, since it’s so derivative.”
Don’t get him wrong. Durwood is a fan of superhero comics and especially of Jack Kirby (co-creator of Captain America, Black Panther, Hulk, Ant-Man, Wasp, among many others). But he finds that the world-menacing threats, predictable villains, and moments of doubt leading to a martial-arts climax are formulaic.
“One of the reasons historical fiction endures is the richness of the characters – what we find about them away from the fighting,” explains Durwood. In the world of Foster’s “Prince Valiant,” small moments gave it a rich, historically accurate texture. “There is a sequence, for example, when Prince Valiant enters the Merlin Gate to Camelot and stops to admire the architecture, which is fully rendered and naturalistic. Thoughtful moments like this slow the reader down and give us the chance to walk in the characters’ shoes. The eventual battle means more because of it.”
In his own stories, Durwood tries to engage with the social and economic forces beneath the action. David Liss is an author he admires because he is always trying to set his characters squarely in an economic context.
In his Wild-West short story “Love Triangle in the High Sierras,” Durwood takes the time to remind readers that California’s was a revelation in food production. This was land worth fighting for because of the high demands for wheat and beef by immigrant-rich East Coast cities. The new population skyrocketed the land’s value -- hence the gunfights.
Similarly, in his adventure novel “The Colonials,” Durwood sets out the premise that the American Revolution was a global event. He features young Chinese and Dutch and German protagonists to make his version a little different.
“These qualities may be signposts for future storytellers once the cupboard runs bare,” says Durwood. “Even the Avengers movies incorporate scenes with Hawkeye’s family on a farm or Captain America at Agent Carter’s bedside in an effort to expand the narratives. As to the use of history, the recent X-Men movie set against the Cuban Missile Crisis is an example of really resourceful, out-of-the-ordinary storytelling.”
So should tales from history be Marvel’s new direction? “No, no way,” responds Durwood. He believes his own taste in history is slightly dark and marginal to the mainstream audience.
Durwood is looking forward to unleashing more “new-old” dramas and vistas of the past in his next stories. Three epic stories set in different centuries have been completed, and he’s already begun storyboarding the art. Keep an eye out for them in 2019.
Each of Durwood’s titles is available at http://www.empirestudiespress.com/.
Images for this story are available at:
“[’The Caliph’s Gift and Four More Stories’] are works full of mystery and heartbreak.” – Sara Ridley, blogger, “Life of a Storyteller”
“Overall, the art is absolutely stunning.” – Leijah Petelka, Comicsverse.com
Tom Durwood is a retired teacher and a five-time Teacher of the Year Award recipient at Valley Forge Military College. He lives in Seattle. To learn more about Mr. Durwood and his work, visit www.EmpireStudiesPress.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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