Freeman Colby: From Primary Sources to Comics

Here are some of the many Civil War primary sources I use to draw the Freeman Colby series of graphic novels:

Vol. 1: The Diary

Freeman Colby Vol. 1 started out as a (more or less) direct visual interpretation of Colby’s written “diary” (click the image to view @ full size):

READ MORE: “When the war broke out…” (Freeman Colby Vol. 1) ➤

Adding Visual Reference

Where Colby provides no description of historical sites, I found it useful to refer to historical primary source images:

READ MORE: “Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon” (Freeman Colby Vol. 1) ➤

(Note how those comics panels help us explore the lithograph’s details sequentially.)

Vol. 2: Supplemental Texts (Memoirs) & Period Graphics

Basing Vol. 2 around Colby’s 1863 letters, I found it necessary to fill gaps in the record with texts & images from other sources. Below, some text from the 39th Mass. regimental history illustrates a gap of several months in Colby’s letters:

READ MORE: “The Fallen (June 1863)” (Freeman Colby Vol. 2) ➤

Bringing in Other Narrators:

To fill these narrative gaps, I find it useful to focus for entire sections on the people around Colby, who provide many details to complement Colby’s story & flesh out our overall sense of the time period.

Below: Walt Whitman’s pocket notebooks, drawn from Colby’s perspective:

READ MORE: “News from Gettysburg (July 1863)” (Freeman Colby Vol. 2) ➤

… & then the Other Narrators Take Over the Story!

I quickly find the story wants to linger on & follow these additional narrators. This empathic curiosity is a common effect of drawing out somebody else’s story!
Below = While Colby lies sick in hospital, unable to write letters, I find myself drawing from the letters of Nurse Sarah Low. This gives us an entirely different perspective on Union military hospitals & healthcare:

READ MORE: “Sarah Low: Civil War Nurse” (Freeman Colby Vol. 2) ➤

A Primary Source is NOT the Full Story…:

Of course, if we’re really paying attention, we can see that Colby’s letters home don’t tell the full story of his situation:

READ MORE: “Dear Parents” (Freeman Colby Vol. 2) ➤

In the page below, I’m drawing a long march from Colby’s perspective. But notice all the blank space around the characters — That represents details that Colby did NOT include in his letter home. Those could be details of setting, actions, or even other characters. What (or who) is in those blank spaces — those “gaps” — in Colby’s narrative?:

READ MORE: “Let Him March” (Freeman Colby Vol. 2) ➤

Filling the Gaps with More Source Texts:

To get a better sense of the historical reality, I’ve learned to mix in additional sources, with different perspectives on topics Colby doesn’t even mention.

For example, George Stevens’ contemporary account mentions the large numbers of refugees from slavery in this area at the time:

READ MORE: “Refugees” (Freeman Colby Vol. 2) ➤

With that detail, we can seek out & include more diverse voices in our artwork — Turning Colby’s original narrative into more of a conversation between primary sources:

READ MORE: “Fannie Dawson” (Freeman Colby Vol. 2) ➤

These additional voices help us enrich Colby’s original storyline & explore the perspectives of several other eyewitnesses to history!

For recent Freeman Colby posts:
visit the project’s PATREON...

Published by Marek

Cartoonist, musician, teacher.

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