Rob Cain: We have on the phone Mr. Eric Shanower who is the writer and illustrator of the graphic novel, The Age of Bronze. Welcome to Ancient Rome Refocused.
Eric: Thank you very much, Rob. I’m glad to be here.
Rob: Before we get started, I just want to say I was searching through the stacks of the library of Alexandria, my Alexandria, not the famous one, and I came across your graphic novel on Troy, and I was immediately drawn to it. The drawings were realistic, the story line intriguing, and some of the characters seem slightly flawed which made it more interesting. Part of the founding principles of what I’m trying to do on Ancient Rome Refocused is to talk to people that are keeping history alive either through research, education, hobbies or in their art, and I know that graphic novels are big in Europe and Japan and are certainly popular here in the US, but it seems to me that you stepped away from illustrating superheroes and have instead taken on mythological ones. Is there much difference between the two?
Eric: Well, I think there is. Drawing superheroes has never been my biggest focus in my career as a cartoonist. I just take those jobs when they’re offered to me and I have time, but writing and drawing Age of Bronze is my major project at the moment and has been for quite a number of years and will be for a quite few more years. It’s much more personal project to me because I’m telling the story of the Trojan War in the way that I think is the most dramatic and most exciting way to do it. I’m just trying to re-tell the story for today’s audience and make it as exciting as possible for readers of today.
Rob: What drew you to this story? Why this subject as a graphic novel?
Eric: I really like Greek mythology when I was a kid, and I went through a period where I read a lot of it, got lots of books out of the library, children versions of the Greek myths. The story of Troy never really appealed to me as a child. I knew various things about it, the things that most people know. Helen and the wooden horse, things like that. But it wasn’t until I was an adult and I was finishing a major project and was testing around for another project to start, and I happen to be listening to a book on tape called The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman who is a historian. She is an American.
A chapter on the Trojan War, I found it really, really intriguing. I realized that there were many, many different versions of the story of the Trojan War that Homer’s Iliad was only the beginning, and I thought it would be a really great comic book series to take the complete story of the Trojan War, take all the different versions that I could possibly find and smush them all together and reconcile all the contradictions and also set it in the correct time period using the history and the archeology of the places where it occurred.
Just the idea of that made me really excited. At that time, this is back in 1991. I realized that it would be a very large project that I wasn’t sure I really wanted to take on something so large. But every once in awhile, I’ll be in a bookstore and book that has something to do with the Trojan War would certainly pop from the shelves into my hands almost and after awhile I realized I did enough enthusiasm to see this project through the end. I started working on it, started the research and eventually sold the project and have been working on the comic book for the first issue that was published in 1998. The first collective volume came out in 2001. So, that’s how Age of Bronze came into being, and I just thought Trojan War was a fascinating story. It’s one of the world’s oldest stories. It’s retold over and over again in every generation. I guess, I’m just one of the latest re-tellers.
Rob: How long did it take you to research the book?
Eric: Well, I began real researching about 1992. I felt I had enough to at least start working on it in…let’s see. I think I began writing scripts around ‘96, and then I actually began drawing in ‘97. I’m still doing research, but the major stuff is I’ve complete within the first 4 or 5 years. Every once in awhile, though, particularly for archaeological stuff that I have to draw some item that I just don’t have any information on and I have to go do some research on that.
The story of the Trojan War has been retold so many times in so many different version that I am sure I will never find every single reference to it no matter how many years I keep looking. Of course, all the major retellings, the Iliad, the Aeneid all with tragedies that address the Trojan War, things like that. I was able to gather very quickly because they’re quite so prominent in our literature, but there are so many, many obscure things, obscure plays particularly like from 1700. There weren’t major works and many of them have been lost or just in single copies, so I have to do a lot of research in library
With things like that, often, they actually don’t have much to my knowledge of the story, the very obscure things or their parodies or developments of some episode which just won’t fit in very well, but I try to expose myself to all of these different versions and hope that aspects of them come across at least in my conception. It’s just sort of a big…I put everything into plot and just as the story unfolds and I have to develop where it is going. I hope that it goes to every single version that I have been exposed to will end up in the finished product. Once Age of Bronze is finished, it will have at least an echo of every single version of the Trojan War that I’ve ever heard of, that I ever read or heard.
Rob: Frankly, I think the drawings are magnificent. There are beautiful renderings of the human form which made me kind of wonder. Are you self-taught artist or did you attend a certain school?
Eric: Well, I’ve drawn all my life and I draw all the time. When I was growing up, I would cover all my homework, assignments with drawings on the back. So, in some instance, yeah, I’m self-taught, but I also have taken art lessons all my life. My parents were supportive of my interests and they would send me to art classes.
After high school, I attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art which is a small trade school in New Jersey which basically trains people to enter the field of comics to become cartoonists. They also have graphic design and some animation classes, but their main thrust is comic books, and that’s what I wanted to do.
Rob: Do you always have an interest in ancient history?
Eric: (Laughs) No. I did not. All my knowledge of the Bronze Age Aegean has come from the necessity of studying all these stuff for Age of Bronze. I like ancient Egypt. I saw the travelling exhibit of the King Tut’s treasures which was in the country in ‘77. I saw it in Chicago. And for a long time, I wanted to do graphic novel based in Ancient Egypt. I was actually planning this in the early 90’s but the wealth of information they have from ancient Egypt was just really overwhelming. I was finding tons and tons of books trying to assimilate all this information into my idea for a story, and I just sort of got bug down.
Once I had the idea to re-tell the Trojan War story, I started looking at books on the archeology of the period, and I was really, really relieved to find that all the books basically have all the same images time after time. So while there’s nowhere near the amount of information that we have from the Bronze Age of Aegean world that we do from ancient Egypt. It just made my task a lot easier. I can get my head around it.
There is a lot of information we have from ancient Greece and ancient Troy, but it’s nowhere nearer with what we have from ancient Egypt.
Rob: The armor of the Trojans and Greek heroes seemed to be slightly different than how it’s usually portrayed in Hollywood. When you see certain type of helmets and everything, whenever they do anything about Greeks, it’s always portrayed in a certain way, but your armor seems more real but clunkier, harder to put on. Did you research the armor? Or did you find that maybe that most Hollywood film do it the wrong timeframe or… is it me?
Eric: (Laughs) It’s not you. Yeah, Hollywood tends to use that’s from a later period. I guess, they think it looks cooler or else they think that’s what people are going to expect. For instance, lots of Hollywood used Corinthian helmets or ancient Greece no matter what period it’s in, thus Corinthian helmets didn’t exist during the Bronze Age, so I can’t use those.
I am setting Age of Bronze in the 13th century BCE specifically the time when…if the Trojan War really happened, this is what I hope it would have looked like. I do pass a bit of a wide net. I will take artifacts from the 14th century BCE and use them. I can’t find something that I need from the 13th century. So, I may be a little bit anachronistic but I’m certainly not as anachronistic as the Hollywood tends to be.
I tried to be very, very as authentic as possible. I can’t claim that I’m completely authentic. Every once in awhile, I do something and then a few years later I’ll find some information that tells me what I did was wrong in the first issue of Age of Bronze. I did some things that I wish I haven’t done, that I haven’t drawn now. For instance, there is an animal enclosure, an enclosure for cows, and I wished I had not drawn these spear-like projections to keep predators away. I should have just put thorny branches on the top of the walls as a deterrent to predators, but I didn’t know that at that time, and I just did the best I could. That’s all that I can claim. I’m doing the best I can.
Rob: Well, I think a lot of people when they’re writing books about ancient history, they do research and they make their best guess. In historical novels that I’ve read, I’ve seen at the end of the book something like, “I did my best to try to put together an image of that timeframe. If someone knows better, that’s great.” You know, you just have to do what you can.
Rob: I’ve looked at photographs of the archeological site and I could be wrong but there’s a familiar image of two lions over a stone gate in your graphic novel, and chariots are going underneath with spearmen marching behind the chariots, and this kind of pricked my memory of seeing a similiar gate in a photograph. Did you try to incorporate some of the walls and photography into your drawings?
Eric: Yeah. Well, that specific gate, that’s the Lion Gate at Mycenae scene which is still there. That was part of the walls of Mycenae. Mycenae is an important location in the Trojan War. That’s where the high king, Agamemnon, rules. I was determined to put that into Age of Bronze since that is what would have been there at the time or probably was there at the time. The Lion Gate was new in the late Bronze Age. It seems to have been built about the middle of the 13th century BCE, so maybe it wasn’t up yet whatever events beside the Trojan War were happening but I have drawn it at Age of Bronze. I tried to be as authentic as possible in all the architecture, all the aspects, all the clothes, all the hair, all the weapons, all the armor, the chariots, the landscape. Whatever I’m drawing, I want to be authentic as possible. As I said before, I can’t claim. I can’t claim that this is exactly what it looked like but I’ll do my best.
I went to Troy in 2006 much, much later. I’ve been working on a project at Oahu. I went to Troy and hiked around the area, took lots of photos, have some videos, I did some sketching. Last fall, I went…I finally got to Greece and saw the Mycenae. I went to sites there. I went to Mycenae, saw the Lion Gate where they’ve retouched it with photographs, especially great.
Rob: How did that make you feel? I only ask because it’s something that I’ve kind of dreamed about myself. Everybody has a different idea of what it will feel like. So many say it’s just a stone, and some people may get all sorts of things from it. I don’t know. It’s just a thought.
Eric: When I went to Troy I expected to be sort of in awe a little bit. But when I got there, I don’t think…I wasn’t really in awe. It was like, “Oh, yeah. This is what it looks like,” because I’ve seen so many photographs. I’ve seen it described. Beside the Troy, it seemed a lot smaller than I had imagined it. But, you know, what I was there for in the Greek Bronze Age site, was just to soak up as much information as possible. That’s what I tried to do, is get information, just feel it and make it a part of myself. I had drawn all those sites before so I had some familiarity with them. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be drawing the Greek sites as much anymore because the story had gotten to the point where everybody is at Troy, the wars underway and the Greeks are camp outside of Troy and the main location is going to be there for the rest of the story. I wish I’ve been able to get to Greece and see those sites before I had to draw them. IHow did I feel? I’m totally glad I went. Going to Troy was one of those magnificent things that I’ve ever done in my life. I was there for 12 days. Greece, I didn’t get as much time. I went to Mycenae, Pylos, and Tiryns and and we had a weekend, but I was actually taken around by Jack Davis and his wife, Cherie. Jack is the current director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and Cherie had been digging at Pylos for a couple of decades now, so I couldn’t have had a better tour guides to see these sites. They are the experts. I was really thankful for that.
Rob: I got to the Roman Forum. I hate to admit it. I was walking down into the forum, and I got a little misty eyed. A grown man getting a little tear in his eye over visiting the Roman Forum, can you beat that?
Eric: I think that’s perfectly fine. It’s fully understandable.
Rob: Which brings to a question, I see a lot of movies all the time and they never talk about who really the Trojans are. I mean, it’s as if they’re another people in armor. They always…both sides are speaking English or ‘British English’ or whatever and such, I mean, who really were the Trojans? Who do you think they were?
Eric: Well, I’m not sure I can answer that question, who were the Trojans? They were people that lived in the northwest corner of Turkey. The site of Troy was occupied for about 3,000 years or more like there are nine major levels which have been subdivided into many, many, many levels. I think it’s like 30 or 40 some levels, occupation levels. That level that’s most closely identified with the Trojan War is the sixth level. There was some continuity of culture to Troy Seven. So with the question if there was a Trojan War or whatever events that inspired the Trojan War or did it take place during the time of Troy Six or was it was the time of Troy Seven? A lot of different archeologists are arguing…they have different claims. That’s not so during the Age of Bronze. I don’t really have to worry about whether what was the exact point in time. I can draw from the archeology in the early part of the story more from Troy Six and in the later part of the story, I’ll be drawing more from Troy Seven. I don’t think it can prove me right or wrong. Basically, the Age of Bronze is historical fiction anyway.
I think my greatest asset to the experts, the archeologists, is in my ability to reconstruct our daily life, what it might have looked like at Troy so that they can picture because if you are an archeologist, you’re not necessarily an artist who cannot reconstruct things. I think that’s part of what my value is at least in academic world. I mean that’s not my main thought. I’m telling the story I guess for literary reasons.
Rob: You know what, I looked at the faces of your characters and they’re so full of expression. You could see fear, hate and at times even boredom on their faces, I mean, the hero seemed to have faults and we just don’t see one face presented to the reader. There’s a whole array of emotions, good and bad. I mean, was this intentional?
Eric: Well, absolutely. I’m telling a dramatic story with characters who have emotions and the story is character in conflict, and without any conflict, we don’t have a very interesting story. Obviously, the story of Trojan War is one of the oldest conflicts that we know of.
The characters have been pretty well established over the centuries. I’m trying to stay well within the tradition of who the characters are – Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus, all the familiar characters. So, yeah, they have to show their emotions. That’s the way I tell the story. That’s the way readers relate to these human beings. You know these characters have pedigrees, that go back thousands of years. They essentially are because human beings just like us. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed the story and I’m re-telling it, is to show people, yeah, you may think that this is some drive that is classic, but these characters are people just like you are. They have to live their lives. They have to make decisions. They come into conflict with others. They have to deal with all the necessities of life just like we do now. They’re just from a different time.
Rob: In your version of the story, Troy, I really don’t see any gods in the story like I think there have been versions where we see what Jupiter or Zeus is thinking and various gods and goddesses, and there was a centaur, Chiron, I believe. You drew him with a thick horsetail down at the back of his tunic. Was this an editorial decision to keep the gods at arm’s length?
Eric: Yeah. One of my basic reasons in re-telling the story, one of my goals is to show the story of the Trojan war on a human level and to remove all the supernatural on it so the gods don’t come down and actually they don’t fight with the warriors. They don’t tell what to do simply because I want to present it from the human perspective. There are gods that the characters worship of course. The Achaeans, the Greek character, have worshipped the familiar Greek pantheon, at least the ones that we know of that were attested with confidence from the late Bronze Age. The Trojans however worshipped the Hittite gods. This goes back a little to the question about who were the Trojans, location that has been identified as Troy in northwestern, but he was on the fringes of the Hittite empire, the great Hittite empire which flourished in the Bronze Age. We have documents from the Hittites talking about Troy, and it had been pretty well conclusively proven that the site excavated in the 1800 is the site that Homer used for Troy, and there are various linguistic and written alphabetical inscriptions that give really strong evidence that that was Troy that we know today. Certainly there were conflicts in that area. It’s situated geographically at a point where lots of trade routes particularly sea routes or traders would have met. It’s situated like the point where Europe and Asia meet and many ships would have been sailing from the Aegean Sea which is the Eastern Mediterranean up to the Black Sea.
Certainly, we have documents from Egypt showing trade routes and some of these places were around the Aegean work on Egyptian trade routes and we have artifacts from all over the area in all of the different places. We know that Troy was very strong. And because Troy was situated very advantageously, they obviously were rich town and people would have wanted to attack them so that’s why there are probably things like that are where the story of the Trojan broke throughout, but these are all very human things, human reasons or conflict and that’s what I concentrate on not showing the gods come and tell the people what to do.
This gives me real interesting problem because they are many version of the Trojan War. The gods could instigate many of the actions but that’s really fascinating, a fascinating problem to me to have to figure out in my version of the story how to keep the plot going without the gods to show the characters coming to their own decisions and advancing things about the intervention of the gods as characters. Of course, a lot of the characters say, “Well, I was inspired by the God,” or, “obviously, the gods want me to do this.” But as a reader we know that all these decisions are motivated purely by the human reasons.
Rob: Well, what has the public’s reaction been to your series, Age of Bronze?
Eric: Overall, it’s overwhelmingly positive. It’s one of words. It sold well. The Age of Bronze was first published as comic book, 20 pages of art at that time, which come out periodically and then every once, every few years, those are collected into the graphic novels. The novels really sell well and those have been very well received.
At first, not everybody likes everything about the series and I get reactions from people. Let me see. Some negative reactions were they can’t tell some of the characters apart. At the beginning, all the Trojan princes, I designed them all to look like brothers since they are brothers, and I probably didn’t design them well enough to be able, for readers to immediately tell them apart which I regretted at this point, but that’s one of those things where I can’t go back and re-do everything. So, I tried to, since then, have certain aspects of the characters like Paris, one of the main Trojan princes, the one who kidnapped Helen, wears a lion, not a lion skin but a cat skin or rabbit skin over his shoulder almost every time I draw him. So, I hope the readers will be able to identify him by that symbol.
I did much better job on many of the Greeks, the Achaean warriors to differentiate, and I think people don’t have any problem telling them apart.
Rob: Well, I never had any problems even when you put Achilles in a dress. I still could figure out who he was.
Eric: OK, yeah.
Eric: And I recognize the face and strange enough, even while he was in a dress, I recognized his attitude. He was hiding a secret and it’s the person hiding, you say, “Uh, that’s Achilles,” so that wasn’t a problem for me at all.
Eric: Well, good.
[Editor’s note* There is a tale that Achillies mother hid her son in a woman’s dress to protect him from going to Troy. Interesting ploy to avoid the draft, don’t you think?)
Rob: Well, speaking of Achilles, OK, he was the greatest warrior of the Greek coast, but in your novel, and if I’m wrong, please let me know, but in your novel, he seems young, maybe a little untested, he is full of youth, OK. He is battle ready. He certainly wants to go to battle but what made him important to the cause? What made Achilles more important than any other warrior?
Eric: Well, I’m not sure. I’m not certain that he is important, more important than any other warrior. He is important in literary culture because he is the main character of the Iliad which is one of the oldest and greatest stories that we have.
In Age of Bronze, he starts out very young, at about 12 years old. By the time he gets to the point where he died towards the end of the story, he’ll about 25. But, yeah, when he is young, he is untested. He goes through a path. He has to grow and turn into the person that we know from the Iliad, the warrior who is more interested in his own noble nature in his own honor than he is in the rest of the, any reason for the war, this sort of pointless war that could just go on and on and everybody becomes frustrated with.
Rob: Maybe, it’s really an unfair question. I mean, because when you think about it, here I’m complaining why we are talking about Achilles, but see, that’s the character they chose to talk about. So, he is one of the lead characters in the story, so that was the one chosen. Some of the minor characters, they didn’t make the lead.
Eric: There’s a number of characters in the story who go through significant life decisions that they have to go. They start at one point they have to go and end up at another point. Achilles is one of those. Yeah, he starts out very young, untested, lots enthusiasm but he doesn’t really know what he is getting into. I mean, he has an overprotective mother. He has sort of absent father. He has many, many different relationships, romantic and sexual relationships during the story. But by the time, he gets to his final battle he is a very different person than who he is when he started out.
There are other characters who have to go through a journey, go through…contract problems, make decisions and those are the characters who are the most interesting and the most important to the story. People like Hector, the great Trojan prince. Helen, herself, she is the character that a lot of people seem to really dislike because she makes certain reprehensible decisions very early on. She decides for her husband and go off with a young Trojan prince who is several years younger than she is, who is not a very likeable character, but who is very charismatic and fascinating.
You know, the character that everyone thinks is very important is Odysseus. He starts out more mature than a lot of the other character, but he discovers many things about himself, about his place in the world, about his relationship to the world around him over the course of the story, too. He goes through a lot more after the Trojan War ends. So, the story of the Odyssey history comes from the Trojan war, but he is also one of the more fascinating characters.
Agamemnon, the high king, the leader of the Greek forces, he is not a very likeable character but he also goes through a lot of stuff, has to make a lot of decisions, knows a lot of things about who he is, about how relates to the world. In the second graphic novel, he confronted with the problem of sacrificing his eldest daughter and basically saying “Yeah. You can kill her because there is no other way we’re going to be able to reach Troy,” and he has to make that decision.
One of my challenges was how do I show a human being making the decision to let his daughter die, and I hope I told that as believably as possible. It’s not that I advocate anybody to go around killing their daughters. But I wanted to show how that could…how a human could be pushed to the point of making that decision just having such overwhelming conflict that someone actually goes there and says, “OK. I can’t make any other decision at this point but to let my daughter die.”
I think I pulled off successfully at least from the actions that I’ve gotten from readers.
Rob: What I liked was how he [Achillies] was calling out to Agamemnon’s daughters, you know, yelling up that: “I’m here!” That kind of touched me in a big way that he was giving her an out. It added more drama to the scene. It impressed me.
Eric: You are talking about Achilles.
Rob: Yeah, Achilles shouting out that “I am here!” So all she had to do was call out to save her life if she chose to do so.
OK. I’m about to ask the big question now. I don’t know if I’m going to regret this but what did you think of the Hollywood movie, Troy?
Eric: The one in 2004?
Eric: Yeah. It wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. There were a couple of things, major things that I didn’t like about it. One was at the beginning. They put some sort of date on it. Yet, they then proceed to put all these anachronistic costuming and ships and architecture into it, stuff from other periods, stuff that they just made up. I’m fine with telling the story of the Trojan War as a fantasy, but if you’re going to put a date on it, you can’t tell if it’s really a fantasy. That is stick to the date if you’re going to say…if you’re going to give a date, stick to the date. If you’re going to give a date, you can do whatever you want.
People have re-told the story over and over and over and over again, thousands of years and it’s been pushed, pulled, twisted, done tons of stuff to, and Hollywood can do whatever they want with it, but I object to mixing your genres. If you’re going to tell it as historical fiction then use historical fiction. I’ve no problem with using mythology and fantasy whatever you want to call it, but make your decision. So, I did object to the anachronistic use of research.
They took the Lion Gate and they put the lion relieving triangle for lions above the gate. They stuck it right into Agamemnon’s throne room which made absolutely no sense whatsoever. They probably looked cool but I don’t care what looks cool. It looked stupid to me if you’re putting this in there. It’s laughable. There is no architectural reason for it to be there or there is architectural reason for it to be in the wall of the gate. I mean it actually looked stupid to me. I guess, the few people know what they’re talking about know better don’t really matter as long as they got there 10 bucks or whatever it cost to get in the movie. Who cares? But I just thought it was insulting.
What I did like about the movie were some of the performances. I liked at the end when they have some of the Trojan characters escaping from Troy including like Paris who is really suppose to die in the traditional story. It is sort of weird. When they have Aeneas going and with Aeneas, they have this old man which the script doesn’t refer to and no one in the movie paid attention to this old man but that’s clearly Aeneas’s father, who in the traditional story, Aeneas carries out of Troy.
Yeah. The traditional story is that Aeneas carries his father and his son out of Troy. They didn’t have a son here. They just had the father, but I wish I put more stuff like that in just little things where he noted real story, you would just go, “Oh, I know what’s going on there in the background.” It doesn’t really matter to the overall movie, but it’s just been fun little things like that, and they did that with Aeneas’s father, Anchises, but they didn’t do enough of that for me, so overall I was disappointed with the movie. I think obviously it was rather disappointing to almost everybody. It certainly didn’t make much of an impression on the movie world. It is not a movie that everyone talks about anymore.
Rob: But Brad Pitt looks good in armor, right?
Eric: I thought he would look better if his armor was from the real period.
Rob: Oh, OK.
Eric: No. I came to the movie with my prejudices, my preconceived notions. They can do whatever they want, obviously. This is their version of the story, and certainly there have been so many, many, many versions of the story. I don’t agree with the people who get upset because they didn’t stick to a more traditional view of the story. I guess I’m no purest as far as tradition goes, not in the way I am purest as far as the archeology goes. They could do whatever they wanted, and I would not have that much of a problem with it. People get upset because they made Achilles and Patroklus cousins in the Troy movie, but there is a version of the story where they are cousins, so that is perfectly legitimate as far as I’m concerned. So, I would like to make, I guess, I just want to make it clear that as far as their version of the actual story, I didn’t have really any problem with it.
Rob: OK. At the end of your book, I just thought you might want to tell us a little something about the Institute for Mediterranean Studies. Is this an organization you’ve been involved with?
Eric: The Institute for Mediterranean Studies is part of the classics department at the University of Cincinnati. The University of Cincinnati in Ohio is the American partner in the current excavations at Troy. These excavations began in 1988. They’re led by the University of Tubingen from Germany, but it’s an international effort so they have scholars from all over the world. The excavations have sort of…they haven’t quite ended but they’ve been greatly reduced for the past, I don’t know, eight years or so.
The University of Cincinnati isn’t really active there anymore, but they are still the American partner at Troy. They are basically researching post-Bronze Age, not the period that I’m interested in, but they, as the American partner, they do represent the entire excavation in the US, and they’re still seeking funds so I do put a little bit of money every once in awhile and I do publicize their efforts at raising money with Age of Bronze since I think it’s really important site.
Obviously, Troy is a major, major site that’s important in the world for both science and the art. The excavations that are going on there now, it’s the fourth…fourth major excavation, yeah. The last time Troy was excavated was in the 30’s and 40’s. Is that right? I can’t remember at all. I’m sorry. I may be getting this wrong. The Blegen expedition was earlier, but the current expedition which was led by Manfred Korfmann and is now led by Ernst Pernicka is important because we have so much greater technology than the last time the excavations were ran that we have discovered many, many new things about Troy, just the magnetometer capability that we have, we discovered the lower town from the Bronze Age which was totally unknown previous to that. We sort of knew that there had to have been a lower town, but no one knew exactly where it was and there was no evidence for it, but now we have it in the mid-‘90’s they found it, found the circuit ditch.
And also, funding these researches even after the excavations have been reduced. The publication of all of the material and all of the discoveries and the analysis and all that stuff is also going to cost money. This is important as actually having the archeologist go to the site and dig and do all their activity there. So, I do what I can to publicize the fact they’re still going to need money.
The Institute of Mediterranean Studies accepts donations and they have a very informal organization called Friends of Troy which if you donate so you belong automatically, and they send out reports, excavation reports once a year. They send out little newsletters, interesting things that are happening around the excavations about Troy, about the Bronze Age, Mediterranean world. They send that about two times a year.
Rob: Are you working on anything now that you want to tell the public about?
Eric: Well, I’m still doing Age of Bronze. I’m working on Issue 32 which will be part of the fourth book, the fourth graphic novel. This section I’m working on right now is the Troilus and Cressida story. In fact, the pages I’m working on right now are Cressida being turned over to the Achaeans against Troilus’s wishes. This is actually a section of the story that is not from Ancient Greece. It is a development out of the medieval tradition of the story. Probably, the way most people know this section of the story is from Shakespeare from his play, Troilus and Cressida. There’s also a major poem by Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Cressida which I’m also using as reference for the story. That’s what I’m working on right now.
Another major project that I do is write scripts for a comic adaptation of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. These are published by Marvel Comics working on the scripts for the fourth Oz but right now, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. Ozma of Oz, the third book is being serialized and will be out in graphic novel form in the fall, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the first book, and The Marvelous Land of Oz, the second book, are out now. Those were published within the last couple of years.
Age of Bronze also is undergoing a web. It will be on the web in interactive digital enhanced book very soon. The major announcement of that will be this summer in July. It’s going to be available on the web and every page is going to be annotated with my sources and discussions of how the story developed through the ages, artistic sources, archeological sources and literary sources. There is going to be areas for discussions of that if you download the digital enhanced book. You can go on to the discussion for and give your reactions and discuss with other readers things about the story.
The major market that we see is educational but it certainly not going to be limited to educational so this is going to be published by Throwaway Horse.
Rob: Throwaway Horse, that’s the company?
Eric: Yeah. Age of Bronze itself, the comics and graphic novels, are published by Image Comics which I neglected to mention but I would like to mention that.
Rob: Sure thing. Well, I just have one more question. Is there anybody in your series of the Age of Bronze that you identify with?
Eric: Well– (sounding amused)
Rob: Any hero that you want to pick out.
Eric: As the creator of Age of Bronze, I have to identify with every single one of the characters that I write about because as I said it is historical fiction, I’m telling it dramatically, it’s a story full of conflict, and you were talking about the emotions on the characters’ faces so I have to be able to understand every single character, every action, every event that happened, and I’m telling you on human levels. So what I’m trying to bring out is the human aspect of everything. So, I can identify with every character. I guess, I’m not, a lot of the background characters, a lot of the other solders stories you don’t have, just worried or standing around or finding the battlefield in the background. I can’t say I identify along with them. But, yeah, on a human level, I have to understand everything that’s going to the heads of every single one of my characters. But that said, I think Hector is possibly my favorite character in the story. Even though he dies not a very glorious way, all he is ever trying to do is do the best he can to be outstanding. I guess, that’s part of his fatal plot, too. He feels such responsibility for his place in his society in Troy that that’s why he died because he cannot walk away from it. He cannot say this is not a good situation for me. I got to get out of this right now. So, I think that’s admirable. Unfortunately, it is also the reason that he dies.
Rob: Well, listen, Mr. Shanower, I want to thank you for taking the time and talking with us.
Eric: OK. I just want to say thank you very much for this opportunity, and I’ve enjoyed talking to you.
(End of Interview. The interview is available on the Ancient Rome Refocused podcast (Season 2, Episode 8) titled: “Ancient Troy, Graphic Novels and Brad Pitt?” If you want to read more about Eric Shonower go to his web site at: http://ericshanower.com/ )