Did Rome fall on it’s own (as in, the way most empires fall) or was it pushed? This is the question explored by Amiculus, a genuinely interesting comic book series by Travis Horseman, wonderfully illustrated by Giancarlo Caracuzzo. It’s a tremendous yet somewhat overlooked part of world history , and Horseman starts his saga with the last remaining emperor of the Western Roman empire, the young Romulus. This will no doubt appeal to fans of all the Fantasy/Historic genres currently rising in popularity, and as a fan of history AND historic fiction, I recommend it.
RK: Travis, your project, Amiculus, is something quite unique in that it hits upon the Later Roman Period, especially the Western part of the empire in its final days. People generally focus on the Julius Caesar years. Why did you pick this particular time period? And even with the invention of the mysterious figure of Amiculus, how much did you stick to actual events?
TH: I myself have always been a fan of the High Roman Empire. However, a lot of the stories from this period have been told and retold, at least as far as the lives of great men are concerned. The late Empire by contrast gets relatively little attention, and yet is as dynamic, if not more so, than the days of Caesar and Augustus. It offers a lot more fodder for distinctive stories. This story is based solidly in Late Roman history. I got great use from historians and histories such as Procopius, Priscus, Jordanes and the Anonymus Valesianus, and I try to make a sharp distinction between established history and some of my own speculation and invention. The use of Procopius (who was in Italy at this time) as a character in the framing device, commenting on the history v. the speculation, is meant to aid that distinction.
RK: How would you say your background in theater and your education affected your choice in picking this story? What pulled you to it, and would you describe your research?
TH: This idea started as a ten-page play. I was attracted to the dramatic potential this period offered. Think of it: the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire was a metaphor for the Empire itself at the time: a powerless figurehead, revered only due to tradition but otherwise controlled and manipulated by outside forces until he was finally judged to be irrelevant and disposed of. I was also drawn in by what I imagined to be the relationship between Romulus, who was twelve at the time he was deposed, and his father, Orestes, a warlord who used him as a puppet. What could that relationship have been like? What would Romulus, whose voice was never heard, have to say about this arrangement? The lack of historical data on these things offered a lot of opportunity for creative speculation.
RK: Why did you decide on Giancarlo to illustrate your book? How did you guys decide to collaborate on this?
TH: I became acquainted with Giancarlo via LinkedIn, of all things, and I was immediately blown away by his art, which has a classic comic book appeal and vital character realization in his panels. I approached him with the pitch, and he loved it, which surprised the hell out of me. I mean, I'd never done anything before, and he was the pro with 30 years under his belt. The story really appealed to him, not in the least because it was about his city (Giancarlo is an Italian from Rome) and its history. We've been working together for three years now, almost entirely by email. We've only met once in person, last year. Still, we work amazingly together.
RK: What are your plans for future story arcs and beyond within this universe? I know you launched a second Kickstarter campaign.
TH: I have a Kickstarter for Volume II starting June 1. It provides a closer look at Romulus and Orestes's histories, and how they became who they are, and it's a very cool story. We also get a look at Amiculus, not necessarily who he is, but when he started his mission of sabotage, and how his influence has driven the course of this war. Lots of exciting twists, betrayals, action and revelations come out in this book. Another interesting thing about the book is that it is subtitled Flagellum Dei, which was the title the Romans gave Attila the Hun: The Scourge of God. Attila, who knew Orestes in real life, makes an appearance in his personal history, and their interaction ends up driving many of the events that take place in the series.
RK: What would you say are the similarities between EoB and Amiculus in terms of the scope of subject matter? How important will the Eastern Empire of Rome, which was growing at this time, be in your future stories?
TH: The Eastern Empire is pivotal to this series, because the event occurring in Procopius's present is Justinian's campaign to reconquer Rome and the West. A lot of people don't know that the Eastern Romans survived the fall of the West, much less that they tried to take the West back from the barbarians. Procopius discovers Romulus's history just as the East is reaching the height of their success in Italy, and that discovery ends up having significant consequences to the course of that war as well. Also, the Persians and an Armenian general, Narses, end up making appearances later in the series.
RK: The state of books are reading today. Are we beyond books? Why Kickstarter, and describe how people can support your project more.
TH: I think that most people still desire a book they can hold in their hand over something they can only read on a screen. I read a recent article on how bookstores are holding their own by making books better, of higher quality, not trying to compete with digital media by trying to conform to their format. As for Kickstarter, I think it's a great platform for passion projects, and I feel that the conveyance of that passion to backers is the thing that creates successful campaigns just as much, if not more, than a rewards-based system. Not that I'm skimping on either one! As far as support, just sharing the project and spreading the word is the most effective form of marketing that goes these days. If you can't back personally, send the link to your friends!
RK: Lastly, how would you say learning of Later Roman history (east and west) is relevant to us today, given the turmoil the world is in? How did the fall of Rome change the world, and what aspects of Roman Heritage did the continuance of Byzantium preserve?
TH: Late Roman history has a lot to teach us. I've had a fascination, as have many of us, with things falling apart, of centers not holding. We look at our civilization as being like Rome, to which we apply terms of finality such as "fall." However, Roman civilization didn't vanish without a trace in A.D. 476. It changed and adapted, and survived for another thousand years. Its history and innovations survived as well, enough for us to inherit and rediscover. I think in our most fearful moments we draw upon the fall of Rome as the inevitable fate of our own civilization, and there may be changes somewhere along the line of our history in that direction. But as with them, it doesn't mean we will go extinct. We can change and adapt as well, while preserving the core values and qualities that define our culture.