I’ve followed, and pledged, for quite a few Kickstarter projects by now and it’s something which I’m pretty passionately in favour of for three reasons. Firstly, because it simultaneously resurrects and improves the patronage system for the arts, empowering the artist and the patron in a way which ensure control remains with the artist but the patron gets to pick what they want. Secondly, because the model is both incredibly versatile (Look at sites like emphas.is, pozible and indiegogo) and finally, because it provides an open door for artists of every type to make their way to an audience that completely bypasses every traditional route. For a long time, I harboured delusions of working as a comic writer and the two things that disavowed me of this were my inability to network and schmooze at cons and the fact that the traditional routes were either prohibitively expensive in financial and temporal terms, or simply closed to me.
Kickstarter, and the crowdfunding ethos it’s ushered in, turns that on its head and that, to me, is both revolutionary and probably deserving of a blog post in its own right. But for now, I’m putting two other posts up today, both of which are for Kickstarter projects coming in under the wire. Both projects have funded, but both projects are absolutely deserving of your attention. The first is The Adventures of the 19XX by Paul Roman Martinez. The Adventures of the 19XX is a series about an organization of Mystery Men (And Women) in the 1930s. They’re attempting to stop World War II at the same time as battling their evil opposite number, the Black Faun. So far this is all very 1930s pulp and deliberately so, Paul picking up on a lot of the tropes of the period and landing the series squarely between Indiana Jones and the sort of pre-war, slightly desperate optimism that comes across so well in Captain America.
The 19XX are led by Captain Croft, who runs the Carpathian, their vast airship headquarters. Included in the crew are Frank Diabo, a former Mohawk steel worker, Penn Clement, an engineer and instinctive mechanical genius, Fay Wells, a former flying circus member turned ace pilot and Ahmed Hassan, an Oxford-educated Algerian diplomat and sniper. Every pulp archetype is either here, or ranged against them in the Black Faun, whose ranks included the splendidly named Shining Skull (Or Brassface as the Captain calls him), Fujibayashi Nagato, an unusually well dressed Samurai pirate with a fondness for The Great Gatsby and No.X, a vat grown human with vast strength and aggression. The point of view character for the books is even a kid, referred to as simply The Kid. Along with Jorie Croft, the Captain’s young daughter (And I suspect Croft is a surname that’s been very deliberately chosen), he and Torgo, the smartest rabbit on the planet find themselves at the forefront of a battle between good and evil that covers the entire United States. So far so pulp, I know, but what raises Paul’s work far above the check list school of fiction that modern pulp can sometimes fall into is the way he skilfully weaves both the supernatural and established historical figures through the narrative. One of the best moments in the first book involves Nikola Tesla rendezvousing with the team to hand back a device that required repair. That device, the Tuner, allows her to talk to the dead and, specifically, Harry Houdini, a close friend who has acted as a second father of sorts for the young girl. Later, in one of the best stories in the first volume, Jorie, The Kid, Torgo and Zora Hounon, the 19XX’s magic specialist, journey to New Orleans to rendezvous with a colleague. There, they discover a murder by the Black Faun, a new voodoo queen on the rise and are aided by Prince Herman, a legendary black stage magician who worked under the name Black Herman. Herman was real, and was such a fantastic escape artist that when he died, his assistant charged admission to see the body because no one believed he was dead. This sort of weaving in of established figures grounds the book wonderfully and gives you a neat sense of how the characters fit in this world which is, almost, our own.
That combination of invention and accuracy is carried through into the design work. Paul’s work here is extraordinary, mixing hints of art deco with historical accuracy once again to create a world which is, if not ‘twenty minutes into the future’ as Max Headroom once put it, twenty minutes into tomorrow. The Carpathian is a glorious, leviathan of a ship which feels functional and real at the same time, and the cut away showing how it works and how it’s divided is absolutely beautiful. Likewise, the Kalinin 7, a vast Russian aircraft that actually flew, and that the Black Faun use as a mobile base of operations feels huge and threatening and futuristic in that resolutely old fashioned way. The Kalinin 7 was also a real plane and its presence here once again cements Paul’s comfort straddling the line between history and fiction. It also gives him a chance to show off his draftsmanship as the sequences with the Carpathian in particular give the book a real sense of scale and weight. This is a world of huge machines, carving the future out one propeller at a time and Paul uses that to paint an epic canvas for the story to unfold on. He also cleverly uses it to emphasize character beats, with the Kid’s sense of wonder, and toughness, as well as Diabo’s grim resolve and Penn and Fay’s charmingly Indiana Jones-esque relationship all being given moments to shine.
The Adventures of the 19XX is joyous, pulp storytelling that anyone who likes Hellboy, or The Shadow, or Indiana Jones or any one of a dozen stories I hold dear will love. I’m delighted Paul gave me the chance to read the book, and I look forward to anything else he has on the slate. As I write this the Kickstarter has under 12 hours to run and is fully funded. However, if the book sounds fun, and believe me it is, there’s still time to pledge for some fantastic extras, as well as copies of the book. The link is below: