Suffrajitsu!

When you have to choose between history and fiction – don’t.

Sparked by the true adventures of the Suffragette Amazons, Tony Wolf and João Vieira have teamed up to create a new kind of adventure story. Their graphic novel, Suffrajitsu, is the first in a series of three books as part of the Foreworld Saga. We caught up with Tony Wolf to learn more about this ambitious project, and what we have to look forward to with the release of the first installment.

Suffrajitsu 1

Me: Historical fiction, alternative history, action/adventure, steampunk – a rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but what exactly is Suffrajitsu?

Tony Wolf: There are elements of all of those genres within the trilogy, with alternative history and action/adventure predominating.  The steampunk motif is worn very lightly, though, especially in the first book; I think that the vast majority of readers will be hard-pressed to spot it!

Me: You’ve taken a subject typically reserved for political debates and 30 minutes of high school social studies – and turned it into an action/adventure story. How did that happen?

Tony Wolf: The shortish version is that I had a longstanding interest in the history of the real suffragette bodyguard team.  Back in 2009 I met writers Neal Stephenson and Mark Teppo, and about a year later Neal invited me to contribute to the Victorian and Edwardian eras of their Foreworld Saga series.

That discussion developed into a long email collaboration towards a shared-world novel project.  Then, in mid-2012 (approx.), Neal asked if I’d write a Foreworld graphic novel trilogy about the suffragette Amazons, which was another mutual interest.  I ended up using a good deal of the shared-world material as back-story for what eventually became “Suffrajitsu”.

Me: I’ve heard that historical fiction about war is really about two wars – the one in the story, and the war in the author’s present. While this isn’t exactly a war story, the Suffragettes’ fight is a physical incarnation of political struggle. Did you find any current issues that pulled you deeper into the story, or did you, conversely, capitalize on the distance of history so a greater diversity of readers could appreciate the story?

Tony Wolf

Tony Wolf

Tony Wolf: There are several themes that will probably resonate with modern readers, including the terrorist/freedom fighter question; the Amazons consider themselves to be righteous rebels against a corrupt political system, whereas the authorities of their day have a very different perspective.  

Me: Though the Suffrajitsu blog says the first book leans heavily on actual historical events, it also teases that later parts of the series grow more “fantastical.” Care to elaborate?

Tony Wolf: It’s difficult to elaborate in that regard without spoiling the story, but I can say that most readers will be surprised at how much of the first book is closely based on real history.

Whereas the American suffrage movement was largely led by pacifists, Mrs. Pankhurst and her associates in England became deeply militant – especially after the infamous “Black Friday” riots, during which an ostensibly peaceful rally in central London turned into a six-hour long street-fight between pro- and anti-suffragettes and police constables.  By 1914, which is when my story begins, Mrs. Pankhurst’s organization was engaged in acts of extreme protest – mass vandalism, even arson and bombing attacks on unoccupied buildings.  Their most radical members were literally outlaws.

The militant suffragettes created the Amazon bodyguard team in response to the so-called “Cat and Mouse Act”, which was a new law allowing hunger-striking suffragette prisoners to be temporarily released and then re-arrested once they had recovered their health.  That was basically a way for the government to avoid force-feeding socially prominent protesters, because the suffragettes had successfully portrayed force-feeding in prison as being akin to torture.  Both sides were engaged in a propaganda battle for the hearts and minds of the general public.

The real-life Amazons were effectively a secret society within the suffragette movement – the most radical of the radicals.  They actually did train in martial arts and they used all kinds of tactics to keep fugitive suffragettes safe and free, including brawling with the police when necessary.

Suffrajitsu 2Me: The Suffrajitsu Facebook page says you’re looking to build a niche fandom. How can interested readers help carve the niche a little deeper?

Tony Wolf: We don’t expect such an unusual story to gain anything like mainstream popularity, but joining and sharing the Facebook page is a good first step!  The Suffrajitsu.com website is also full of information about the real suffragette bodyguard team and also provides a good deal of back-story that, with the best will in the world, I simply wasn’t able to fit into a 66-page action-adventure graphic novel trilogy.  We also have some surprises in store for fans, which will be revealed as the graphic novels themselves start rolling out over the next several months.

My ideal, really, is that our fans will be inspired to dig deeper into the real history and maybe even join the fun by getting creative.  I’ll be overjoyed if we start seeing Suffrajitsu fan-fiction, cosplaying at conventions, etc.- that will be the icing on the cake.

Me: The first installment is due out early next year. When should we be looking for the second and third books?

Tony Wolf: The release schedule isn’t locked down at this stage, but the publishers plan to issue the books at monthly intervals via the Kindle app during early 2015.  There will also be a printed collector’s edition of all three Suffrajitsu stories bundled with some other Foreworld graphic novel series, to be released at a much later date.

To learn more about Suffrajitsu – or the true stories that inspired the graphic novel – check out Suffrajitsu.com. You can also support the series by following on Facebook and Twitter.

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