The history of notorious presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth is examined in Booth, written by C.C. Colbert and illustrated by the renowned French artist Tanitoc, a graphic novel which First Second will publish on April 1. After touching on Booth's childhood and early career, the story centers on the months leading up to Lincoln's assassination and its aftermath. "This is a really fascinating book to be publishing right now, about a violent polarized country that echoes where we are today," notes Gina Gagliano, First Second's marketing associate.
In Booth readers get a visceral sense of the intense emotions on both sides as the Civil War winds down. The author wanted to depict Booth as a complex, though clearly flawed, historical figure and stress the context in which he acted. She explains, "He thought he was re-igniting the revolution which he supported." The gripping story is brought to life through Tanitoc's evocative illustrations, as well as the lush palette supplied by Hilary Sycamore.
C.C. Colbert is a pseudonym for Catherine Clinton. Although this is her first graphic novel, she is a noted scholar of American women's history who has written two-dozen books. These include biographies of Mary Todd Lincoln and Harriet Tubman, monographs and edited editions about gender and families during the Civil War, and children's books. She is currently a professor of history at Queen's College in Belfast, Ireland.
Clinton became more aware of the graphic novel medium through her older son who loved manga while he was growing up, and she realized, as long as he was reading, she was happy. That experience is one reason she feels graphic novels are a wonderful way for historians to reach new audiences. As a professor she has noticed each generation in her classroom "seems more and more interested in mediums other than the printed word." Works like Booth will be a way to engage these students in the study of the past.
Clinton met Mark Siegel, the editorial director of First Second, as the press was being launched, and she was impressed by his vision of producing books of high literary and artistic quality that would speak to the issues of the day. She and Siegel discussed artists with whom she could collaborate, and she is thrilled with the selection of Tanitoc. "You could remove the words and still see a beautiful story," she says of his work on Booth. They met briefly in Paris, but during production of the book communicated via e-mail, with Clinton ensuring the accuracy of the artwork's historical details.
The author notes that her work on children's books helped her adapt to the graphic novel format, as she had already learned to "take a 500-page history text and reduce it to 30 pages for young children." Still, she credits her editor Tanya McKinnon with pulling her back from "the brink of disaster when I became so absorbed that I could not get my ideas out in a way that flowed." Together, McKinnon and Clinton decided to open each chapter with a brief summary of the events to help readers not familiar with the history involved.
While Clinton stresses, "I have done my due diligence as a historian," she regards the work as historical fiction. That label has given her the flexibility to imagine details, such as conversations, which she could not possibly verify. Clinton used a pseudonym to avoid confusion between Booth and her traditional scholarly publications. She has not yet told many of academic colleagues about the work beyond close friends, although the renowned historian Doris Kearns Goodwin cheered her on with "Hooray!" Her next graphic novel is about the Constitution and will be published under the name Catherine Clinton.
First Second will highlight the book at ALA, MOCCA, and San Diego Comic Con, according to Gagliano, and plans to use Clinton's reputation to promote the book to the academic community. While she stresses it is not appropriate for younger readers, she believes it will find a home in college classrooms. Among other events, Clinton will be speaking at Ford's Theater the week of the 145th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination. In addition, she hopes to do collaborative talks with Tanitoc in Europe in the fall. Both Clinton and First Press anticipate the book will also be discussed on blogs and in other online formats. Excerpts are available on the First Second website and its Flickr account.
Both Gagliano and Clinton, for different reasons, see projects such as Booth as the wave of the future. Gagliano notes that "one of the things it does is expand the horizons of what graphic novels are" by incorporating serious historical research and reaching out to the academic community. Clinton, for her part, states what historians really want to do is "get stories across. And in the 21st century, those stories are going to have to go into all mediums."