Back This Kickstarter! “Andrew Jackson In Space”
Kickstarter has become a go to crowd funding destination for comic creators to get their projects made on their terms. Fans have been enthusiastic and if you spend even 10 minutes on the site, you’ll no doubt pick out a handful of projects you’d consider backing. One of this great potential comic books is “Andrew Jackson In Space” by Brian Visaggio and Jason Smith. We talked to them about their still running Kickstarter campaign and hopefully you walk away from this wanting to back the project.
Geeked Out Nation: I’ve been following the progression of this project but for our readers, what is “Andrew Jackson In Space”?
Brian Visaggio: “Andrew Jackson in Space” takes America’s seventh president and flings him into a pulp sci-fi space adventure. One day, in 1801, Andrew Jackson woke up 100,000 light years from Earth. He has no idea how he got there or why, and now he’s just trying to find his way home. So it’s an episodic sort of ‘lost in space’ style adventure where anything can happen.
BV: The way we’ve talked about space since the 1960’s is to compare it with the exploration of America. We use that language all the time. We talk about the frontier. We have space probes called “Pioneer.” So space is connected, in the American mindset, with the westward migration; they occupy similar spots in our imagination, and there are very, very few figures in American history as connected with that as Andrew Jackson.
Jackson is emblematic of his age: a man who came from nothing — his family was essentially homeless for much of his childhood, and he grew up as someone little better than a servant in the houses of family members. But he went west, made his fortune, and returned home to rule. In a great many ways, he’s the closest thing America ever came to creating Julius Caesar: a military legend in his own lifetime and a consummate survivor, a man both pragmatic and resourceful. He honestly seems like a guy who could make it in space.
And the man was such a violent lunatic; he never forgave a slight and was quick to throw a punch. He just seemed like he’d be someone it’d be interesting to following around in space for a while. And couple that with his legendary devotion to his wife — someone he started a number of duels to defend, and for whom he would have been willing to sacrifice his presidency — that game him a particularly meaningful goal to strive after.
I want to say that none of the above is in praise of Andrew Jackson. I’m fascinated by him; this doesn’t mean I much like him. Anybody writing about Jackson would be foolish to fail to acknowledge his problematic history — indeed, he’s perhaps the single most problematic figure in American history, and he represents virtually everything I politically oppose. Hell, I’m an anarcho-socialist pacifist; he’s a warmongering racist.
Jackson fascinates me, because in large part he built the country we know today. Both in his virtues and his crimes, Jackson exemplifies, is emblematic of, his time. Honestly, finding any man from his period without problematic views and actions is going to be difficult. I assure you that I am not here to praise Andrew Jackson as much as I am to explore the man: divorced from his context, reduced to his character, he always carries the villain in himself. Jackson is not going to be romanticized. Jackson offers so much interesting material to cover. There’s the gender issue; Jackson is almost a parody of masculinity, a swaggering, aggressive, violent, prideful man with an ancient sense of honor, the sort of person we today would consider basically a Klingon. There’s the cultural aspect: how do we move past his vision of himself and his place in the world, since he’ll have to?
That said, my goal has never been for this to be a polemic or political work. It’s a space adventure starring a younger version of a fascinating, troublesome historical figure who still has time to change.
GON: Now you mentioned many of Jackson’s flaws. I’m sure there are folks who would question the choice to use Jackson. I find your analysis of him fascinating so could you talk about how you will make him a character people can root for?
BV: There definitely are people who have taken issue with my decision to use Jackson. I always expected some pushback, but I still think it’s a good idea.
It’s my job as a writer to deal with people as people and to even, as much as I can, sympathize and empathize with them. This is the peculiar task of the writer, and I have no interest in writing a mustache-twirling villain for the sake of making a point everyone already agrees with. Everyone hates Jackson. Of course everyone hates Jackson. I hate Jackson. The man is opposed to every fiber of my being: he’s an unapologetic craphole of a human being who is full of swagger and bravado and violence. He’s the anti-me in almost every meaningful respect. I think he was an awful president and a nasty human being. I’m trans*-rights advocate and a socialist pacifist. Of course I find Jackson objectionable.
He is all of those things. But he isn’t simple, and that makes him interesting.
There’s a line in the Charles Soule’s She-Hulk: “Nobody is just one thing.” Jackson isn’t either. He’s a complicated mess of a man and it’s fucking fascinating working in his head. He’s not just his crimes: he is a man who committed them, who had reasons for committing them (reasons I do not sympathize with, but nobody acts without motivation), who had a past, a history, a character worth exploring.
Of course I’m humanizing Andrew Jackson. I’m a writer. Jackson was a human. It’s my job as a writer to deal with people as people and to even, as much as I can, sympathize and empathize with them. We do this to villains all the time. Hitler has been the subject of sympathetic portrayals (Max, Downfall), as has Stalin, Henry VIII, Pope Alexander VI, and countless other historical villains. And then there’s Darth Vader, Magneto, Voldemort, Daniel Plainview….
Over the course of this series, Jackson is going to spend his every moment confronting mirrors, things echoing his worst characteristics placed in direct opposition with himself. He’s going to constantly be fighting Andrew Jackson. I want to be able to see if I can force him to grow beyond himself. As much as he will always have the villain in him, if he’s human it means he doesn’t have to be the man he became.
So yes. My goal is to humanize Jackson, but not to apologize for him. My goal is for the reader to empathize with Jackson, because he is a human being, not to agree with or support the things he historically did. That said, I have also decided that, either way, it’s going to be necessary to have an introduction to this book, to address his problematic upfront and frankly, and inviting further dialogue.
BV: Well, the book takes place a few decades before Jackson enters office; he’s a young man with the bulk of his career — and relevance to history — ahead of him. For me the interesting stuff is looking at how this guy from a different historical context approaches the world, and seeing how his new experiences change him.
History is going to factor in. mostly through flashbacks to Jackson’s life before he was taken into space and through historical parallels to his time; there’s a planet we visit in the first few issues which is in the throes of its own French Revolution. There’s also going to be stuff covering the rise of industrialization and how it created the working class (natch), stuff about colonization and displacement, and more. Science fiction is a lens we can use to look at difficult subjects, and Jackson offers a lot in that direction.
GON: What went into designing Andrew Jackson? He’s a young man here but he’s in space so did you get influenced by anything in particular?
GON: You’re raising funds to get the first issue out there but what’s the future look like? Do you want this to turn into something longer like “Stronghold”, your other series?
BV: I made a lot of mistakes developing Stronghold because I was inexperienced. Chief among them was deciding to Go Epic. I had a huge story in mind that was thematically and structurally complex and was gonna run like fifty issues. I dove right into the deep end, and while I’m very proud of the work I’ve done, this book has so many balls in the air that juggling them is a struggle; I’ve been making a really conscious effort to rein in and structure the story. From an enormous epic, Stronghold has been pared down; we’re only telling the first third of the story, and it ends at issue 12.
Why does this have to do with “Andrew Jackson in Space”? Everything. Because this book, and a lot of things I’m working on right now, is a reaction to what I’ve learned making Stronghold, and that means basically to think in terms of smaller, tighter stories. “Andrew Jackson in Space” is, first and foremost, a single four-issue story. I have more stories in play, but I’m thinking about this series very episodically with a sort of vague Doctor Who-style meta-plot that I hope to eventually resolve, but the focus is definitely on self-contained stories that wrap in three or four issues. I figure I could do the whole thing in twenty-four issues, but if all I get are four, that’s a complete adventure.