Monday, June 12, 2017


For the most part, Americans tend to venerate figures from scripture (Moses, David) or real life people who had achieved mythic status (Davey Crockett, Johnny Appleseed), with a few characters from tall tales or acclaimed literary works, usually because of efforts by scoutmasters and tutors. However, it's hard deny to the influence comic books have had on American culture. This is largely because of their distinctive visuals, and because comic books (and comic book-inspired works) were the easiest to enjoy in a post-industrial society. They're portable, don't require electricity, can be  enjoyed at least a little bit by the illiterate, and can exist for a long time. Not permanently,  of course, but their impact lasted. Actually, in New Mexico, where the climate is drier and the Bible is much less popular, even the less widespread comic book characters like Green Lantern and the Fantastic Four are known, but for most of the continent, there are only a few who have managed to remain iconic for a thousand years.

Superman, of course, still exists in folklore, being the embodiment of America as a culture. He has his litany of superpowers, and even a few new ones. When updated to recent times, Clark Kent is a mid-mannered churchman or friar, usually with a hood covering his face. Lois Lane doesn't recognize him because she never looks him in the eye. The biggest difference is, in the Non-Denominational world, he's from Ohio valley, as opposed to Kansas, which is full of barbarians and heretics. It makes sense, as his creators were from Cleveland, and the Hall of Justice resembles Cincinati's train station.

Spiderman is maybe the most popular character from a storytelling perspective. He's distinctive and yet simple enough to be used for toys, puppets, and acrobats are known to dress in Spiderman costumes. "With great power comes great responsibility" is the peasant's answer to chivalry. Peter Parker's dayjob involves weaving tapestries, which his spider powers make surprisingly easy. Some people believe he was real, and friends with Barack Obama, so whether he's considered whimsical or sinister depends on that part of country's opinion of him.

Wonder Woman largely became popular because the combination of classical mythology combined with American iconography and a little bit of Nazi-punching (Americans are vague about World War II, but they know they crossed the sea to fight them) makes her a natural myth. Various kingdoms try to put their own nationalist spin on her, but because primary colors, stars, and eagles are on so many flags, the changes are usually subtle. She's considered so sacrosanct it's considered bad for prostitutes to dress like her, even though it's quite popular for brothels to have folklore themes.

The Incredible Hulk is maybe the former comic book character most popular with the nomadic herdsmen. They see him as the ultimate expression of pastoralism, a big green force of nature who smashes the corrosive and oppressive structures of the so-called "civilized" world.

In some cases, characters have gone beyond folklore, and have become somewhat de-fictionalized. These are naturally the comic book characters who generally didn't have superpowers.

In the original middle ages, it was common for errant knigths to blacken their armor to prevent rust and maybe do some extra-curricular battle, and real black knights started to appear in America. That many languages have the same word for "black" and "dark" didn't escape people, and so the idea of real life Batmans started occurring. In the middle ages, peculiar costume flourishes were pretty normal (It makes you easier to recognize on the battlefield, and may show off you wealth), so a couple people started using Bat-sigils on their coat of arms, and wearing the cowl when possible. Funny enough, "Robins" also became common, as sort a sort of cross between a squire and a herald. It should be also be said that at some point, bandits started to wear clown makes or makeup, but this may or may not have been inspired by the Joker. In any case, this practice caused clowns to be banned across the territories.

There's also a few real life Captain Americas, though it may have been an accident at first, with soldiers, especially in United States territory, having the combination of mail and start-spangled attire drawing comparisons, with some deciding to lean into it. The iconic captain America shield is very popular, and as a symbol is common on coats of arms.

Because of its popularity with real life military culture figures like Chris Kyle, the Punisher's ominous skull logo has also become very common among non-nonsense warriors, and a skull ring is even given to a warlord's personal executioner.

Thor is also a popular figure in Medival American legends,  held back in popularity only by the nervousness of liking a pagan creation too much. Because he was actually around in the middle ages, he fits in this era just fine. And because he was a staple of American comic books, he fits in with stories about Superman and Spiderman just fine as well. It's very popular in taverns to argue which muscelman can beat which in a fight.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Medieval Demographics Comparison

Some of you who have shown interest in Matthew White's site may also have stumbled upon the Welsh Paper's medieval demographics calculator. While the site exists largely for the purpose of role-playing games and fantasy fiction, it is a very interesting to see how it matches up with White's vision. It should be said that the map of Richmond does have twenty or so churches, which is in sync with the number of churches the calculator estimates for a city of medieval Richmond's size. The main discrepancy, if it should be considered as such, is that White seems to offer larger cities than the calculator does. That is, the calculator seems to offer far few cities that exceed a population of 25,000. I played around with different theoretical realms--the Kingdom of Ohio, New Jersey, Eastern America, and America as a whole, and it definitely seems like the larger the realm, the bigger the cities (and interestingly, the distance between even smaller settled communities. Which makes sense, as larger settlements requires greater breadth for resources.) I don't know if this is a discrepancy in sources, or different approaches. An RPG is about trekking through the wilderness, and the generator may use a different point in time as a model. Medieval America doesn't absolutely say what year it takes place. It should be mentioned that the MD calculator is supposed to be used as a guideline and in the real Middle Ages, city states along Italy were among the largest on the continent, despite not having large tracts of land. White does seem to mix it up between mercantile republics and agrarian fiefdoms, while the calculator may only take the latter into account.

Out of curiosity, I looked up some historical stats about my home state of Rhode Island. In White's Medieval America, Rhode Island no longer fully exists as a full entity. The part that's still called "Rhode Island" is part of the United States, and a hefty chunk, (largely the Blackstone Valley watershed) has been absorbed into Massachusetts. As there are roughly sixty people per square mile, that leaves the area that would in today's borders, be known as Rhode Island with roughly 73,000 people give or take. This census shows that the last time Rhode Island had this population was probably 1815 or so. The population for Providence around this time is ten thousand or so--significantly higher than the medieval demographics calculator would suggest, but still less than half of White's estimate. Of course, the U.S. was a much younger back then. It should also be noted that the sixty people per square mileage thing is an average how much the land generally sustains. The lower peninsula of Louisiana has roughly 25,000 people per square mile, but the city of New Orleans seems to have at least twice as many people there. In general, urban populations are such outliers, they don't seem to have an effect on the surrounding area.

Not only did I grow up in Rhode Island, I grew in Glocester, a relatively rural spread out region of the state, who's main street is the picture of New England quaintness . Its current population is something like 9000, its medieval population capacity around 3000, and its early 19th century population a bit over 2000 or so. Funny enough, the road I grew up on passes through three villages, about three miles apart, which is the average distance between modest settlements in the Medieval era. The trek from my home town to Providence might not look comparatively different to such a passenger, which is perhaps a large part of what drew my fascination with the concept of Medieval America to begin with.