The Jekyll Island Chronicles is a graphic novel series that combines historical elements with steampunk to create an alternate take on post-World War I history. The Jekyll Island Chronicles: A Machine Age War, began as a kick-starter project for the three authors; Steve Nedvidek, Ed Crowell, and Jack Lowe. Now they have published the second book, The Jekyll Island Chronicles: A Devil’s Reach, in the anticipated trilogy. Both books center around the beginning of the twentieth century and the tiny Georgia island of Jekyll, where one-sixth of the world’s wealth vacationed. Readers will enjoy imagining these captains of industry coming together on this small island discussing their technological advancements and their uses in the world as it struggles to cope after World War I.
Steve Nedvidek is a cartoonist, actor, speaker, and teacher/coach of innovation and creativity—but he geeks out as an avid builder of models and miniatures. Steve and his wife, Sue, live with their children and dog in Kennesaw, Georgia.
Ed Crowell is a quintessential jack-of-all-trades: corporate CEO, lobbyist, writer, speaker, adventurer, and white-water enthusiast, who blends his varied experiences into his writing. Ed and his wife, Cynthia, live near the Lost Mountain.
Jack Lowe is a student of filmmaking and themed entertainment, and a passionate storyteller with a bent toward immersive, multi-sensory experiences. He, his wife, two dogs, and two cats live in Marietta, Georgia, on the shoulder of Kennesaw Mountain.
All three authors agreed to be interviewed by Kelli Lowers for the LAPL blog.
How did you three meet and what inspired you to work with each other on this series?
The three of us met almost 20 years ago—we all went to the same church. We became friends and so our families grew up together. We discovered that although we grew up in different parts of the country, we had similar childhood reading preferences, comic books, fantasy novels, sci-fi. At a Christmas party in 2012, Steve approached Ed with the idea of creating a graphic novel using WWI vets as heroes, battling bad guys in the early part of the 20th century. Ed said yes. Then we approached Jack and he also was in. We all had day jobs and needed a hobby, as we really weren't very good golfers anyway.
Where did the idea come from for the story?
Steve's grandfather was an immigrant from Bohemia, came over during the Great War, and enlisted in the US Cavalry to get his citizenship. Steve began wondering about that particular time in our history and started doing research. The facts he started digging up were compelling and captured his imagination. "What if there were superheroes during this time? What would they be like? What would they fight for? What kind of world would that be?" He shared the idea with Ed and Jack, and it captured them as well. Ed was actually the one that connected the whole thing to Jekyll Island, which Steve had heard of but never visited.
Why center it around Jekyll Island Club?
It was our intention the entire time to have our heroes created by the greatest minds of the Gilded Age. The world was in turmoil, even though the war was over. Countries were being divided and new ones created. There were winners, losers, and people who had huge grudges. Woodrow Wilson couldn't even get his own country to join the League of Nations. In our narrative, he needs resources to build a secret army to keep things safe from real anarchists, like Luigi Galleani, who were really causing chaos. Mail bombs were blowing up. Wall Street was targeted. People really died. So we needed people with resources. In our novel, Wilson turns to Carnegie, who then turns to his friends on Jekyll (Rockefeller, Morgan, Crane, etc). These people are historical characters, really lived on Jekyll during the cold NYC winters, and all really knew each other. The resources for "Carnegie's specials" come from the resources on Jekyll.
Have any of you visited Jekyll Island or the hotel?
Yes! Oh my. What a place it is. The state of Georgia has done a wonderful job of returning it to its former splendor. You can go stay in the hotel, which we have, multiple times, to do research. You can eat in the grand dining room where they dined. It's like visiting the first class portions of the Titanic, except it is real and functional and totally amazing. It's a world that still exists for visitors and doesn't have to be recreated. The Jekyll Island Club hotel and surrounding historic buildings is like finding our own Hogwarts, without having to build a theme park.
Why do you feel it is important to keep the memory of World War I and the beginnings of World War II alive?
One of the things we all bonded over was the service and support of our grandparents in the Great War. All of us had someone connected to the war. As we began to dig into the story and our research, we realized that there is not a memorial to veterans of the Great War in Washington, DC. That blew us away. This was the group who created the Greatest Generation. They fought a brutal, horrible war. The very sad thing is that most people seem to have forgotten about WWI. Most children don't even know if they had a family member fight in it. There is no memorial. And every soldier is now gone. We hope to raise awareness of the sacrifice of this generation. We were fortunate to have our publisher, IDW, give a portion of every book in the series sold in November and December of 2018 to the WWI Centennial Commission, for the completion of the war memorial that is being built in Pershing Park in our nation's Capital.
Why did you focus on characters like Carnegie, Ford, Morgan, and Tesla?
These characters are very interesting to us. Carnegie gave away 320 million dollars in his lifetime. Tesla was a misunderstood genius. Ford changed his industry and was building cars on multiple continents. Morgan is really less featured in the books; he appears a couple of times and the bombing of Wall Street actually happened in front of his bank in NYC. We were intrigued by the technology and the ingenuity of the time, and Carnegie, Ford and Tesla bring that to the story in a real way. The other hero we use is Charles Proteus Steinmetz. He was a contemporary of Tesla and Edison. He was brilliant, and he was about 4 feet tall. What a mind! And most people have never heard of him. We try to use the narrative to bring light to folks that a modern day audience might find worth knowing. The good thing is there are a lot of people in history that fit this category and they show up in our books in little “Easter eggs." If you pay close attention, you will be surprised at who you find in The Jekyll Island Chronicles!
Were there any other historical figures (good or bad) that you were thinking of using in the story?
A lot. Some make it and some don't, depending on where our story is going. Part of the fun is the research that we get to do for each book and the facts we discover about people of the time. We can point to anarchists by name and have included some already in books one and two, with more coming in book three. We incorporated historical figures in book two that we didn't have in the first book—Prime Minister Lloyd George, Alves dos Reis, J. Edgar Hoover, and Babe Ruth, as examples. Since we are early in the process for book three, we are finding those historical characters, both good and bad, that will fit into our narrative. Sometimes, we insert newspaper "front pages" to help us tell the story of what was happening in the world, as this really is a global story. You can find interesting, and historically accurate, tidbits on those pages too. We think this is a reason that some teachers have started using the series in their classrooms to teach history. It is pretty cool to have students tasked with discovering what is true and what is not true. This skill is much needed, especially today!
How much research went into this story and its characters and what sources did you use?
Tons and tons, actually. We are constantly scouring books, articles, and taking trips to see things. We had to put together a list of resources, books, websites visited, etc., when we were doing our supporting materials for our Teacher's Guides and supporting materials (free on our websites). It was exhausting! Of course, the folks on Jekyll have been super helpful to us and stand at the ready to get us anything archival we need. They are actually having us come down there in April for a book signing and event featuring us, and we are so honored. One desire we have is for a younger generation to discover the history of Jekyll Island, and if we have to do it through graphic novels, so be it! When we travel, we typically combine it with learning something. We have been to tours all over the world to feed into this effort: from the Woolworth Building in New York City to Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, to the Transport Museum in London, to the Cologne Cathedral. And the internet and image searches are so beneficial when doing the layouts of our individual book pages. I don't know how we would have done this 20 years ago.
Why pair this story with steampunk or dieselpunk? What technology during that time period sparked your interests?
As creators, we were curious about the technology that was evolving at that time, air conditioning, bulletproof glass, jet engines, etc. It was interesting to ask yourself what could Carnegie or Ford create if they had access to secret technology. What would they do with it? What would Ford's personal car be like, if it contained things that couldn't yet be commercialized? And then you toss in the minds of Tesla and Steinmetz and you have this whole, cool, electricity vibe. Going back over the photos from WWI of tech that was used in the war, or at least tried out, made our minds come up with additional "what if?" thoughts. Where our tech ultimately lands for JIC is in a dieselpunk area: later than steampunk and the whole "Wild, Wild West" thing, but not quite wholly developed into the nuclear technology that was coming online during WWII. In book two, we were fascinated to learn about The Flying Squad, London's early fast response, SWAT-like team. That was 1920. We looked at the historical photos we found and said, "Oh. We can do much better than this!" Everything the heroes and villains touch is on juiced-up tech for the time—and it looks super cool.
This project started as a Kickstarter, can you tell us more about that process?
We knew we needed funds, and friends, to get this project off the ground. We all had people close to us that wanted to see the first book happen. None of us had ever created a Kickstarter campaign, so we tasked Ed with looking into it. He developed the infrastructure we needed to start the campaign, but we also needed to come up with a video, prize levels, etc—all the stuff you have to do with Kickstarter. lso—and this is a KS thing—if you don't reach the goal you set, you lose all contributions. We were given some counsel to keep the goal low for that reason, but we stuck to our guns with being realistic on what it would take to get the book done. In the end, we far exceeded our goal for book one and even used some of the excess toward book two. The best thing about the Kickstarter campaign was it allowed some of our dearest friends and supporters to come alongside of us. We felt so honored that folks would kick in the dollars to help make our dream a reality! We actually structured the levels of donation so that those that donated most got their names mentioned in book two; you can see us post these now on FB and Instagram. We took these folks and made them characters in the book, so it was a great way to honor their engagement with us in perpetuity. Where else can you get mentioned in your friend's book, right? Our four top donors even got two-night stays for free, courtesy of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel!
What was your favorite book growing up?
Steve: The first book I ever bought with my own money, was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I must have been around 7 years old and was floored with this magical world of chocolate, machines, and page after page of rhymes. We didn't have a lot of books in our house, so my dad schooled me with the classic adventure tales of Verne, Wells, and Dumas. At 9, I bought my first comic book, The Amazing Spider-Man, #111 (August 1972); at 11, my first MAD Magazine. They both sit in my comic book stand in our writer's room.
Jack: The first book I truly loved was The Sea Wolf by Jack London. Adventure on the high seas combined with psychological thrills really enthralled me. Soon thereafter I dove deep into every classic I could get my hands on—Twain, Verne, Wells, Poe—I couldn’t get enough.
Ed: Wow, really hard to pick one favorite. I devoured science fiction on an almost daily basis—Asimov, Lewis, Bradbury, Niven, Pratchett, Benford, Turtledove and more—and honestly, never read a book twice. It could be “hard “science fiction with lots of technological specifics, or lightweight “pulp” stuff or even off-the-wall books like Hitchhikers Guide. But, looking back now, I might be a little partial to Jules Verne. His books are such a great juxtaposition of older writing with (at the time) cutting edge ideas that it's easy to see why they are classics.
Are there any other graphic novels or comics that inspired this story?
Steve: What inspired me most was actually a play. In graduate school, I was fortunate enough to be in a production of Joan Littlewood's Oh, What A Lovely War! This musical was a flashpoint for me, as it brought home the conflict, the sacrifice, and the madness that was The Great War. The mental images stuck, and made me ask further questions that ultimately led me closer to the trenches and my grandfather.
Jack: Dave Steven’s The Rocketeer was certainly an influence for me. And, although it was not a comic book, that I know of, the film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow often ricochets around inside my head as I’m imagining a new machine or an action sequence for our story.
You all have kids, are there books that you are encouraging your kids to read?
Steve: All of my kids are grown now. But when they were younger, I tried to point them to the classics like my dad did for me. They opted for Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and of course, Harry Potter. So they did just fine.
Jack: My youngest daughter,18 is showing interest, great pride, and emotion for our war veterans. I just handed her a copy of To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy. For those who don’t know, Audie Murphy stands as America’s most decorated soldier. His Medal of Honor story is beyond comprehension, as most Medals of Honor stories seem to be. She and I are moved by the love shown in these harrowing moments of decision, knowing that almost certain death awaits.
Ed: My kids are grown, and I’m glad to say they’ve grown up with an appreciation for reading. Obviously, I wholeheartedly encourage them to read The Jekyll Island Chronicles. But beyond that, the cool thing is that we now encourage each other to read. My son will point me to a business book; economics, marketing, negotiation, etc. that he’s just read and my daughter will often suggest current issues, biographies or histories she’s enjoyed.
When can we expect book 3 in the series? Does it have a title?
We are hopeful for San Diego Comic Con 2020. That's when we are targeting the trilogy to be finished. No title yet, but we will let you know when we get one! Follow us on FB, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit if you want to see sketches, pages, thoughts, weird facts, and all the other things that make up our world! You'll be able to watch the book come together and get a sneak peek into how it wraps up.
Thank you very much to Steve, Ed, and Jack for taking the time to answer my questions. Thank you to Wunderkind PR for providing me with the books to review. I greatly enjoyed the two books and I am excited for the third. Highly recommended for teens and adults. Check them out today! Follow the Jekyll Island Chronicles on Twitter @JIChronicles