You’ve heard this story before — but not like this: A modern-day teenager discovers Excalibur in the heart of England, and finds herself dealing with the possibility that she is the reincarnation of Arthur, the mythical King of England. Except this time, Merlin’s protege is a mixed-race girl from Oregon, and she’s not quite sure what to do with the sword once she has it. Welcome to The Once and Future Queen.
The new miniseries from Dark Horse Comics comes from the creative team behind YA series Amelia Cole, Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride and Nick Brokenshire, and builds on that comic’s appeal to offer up a fresh new take on some old stories. The series launches this week, and ahead of Knave’s and Kirkbride’s Emerald City Comic Con appearance this weekend, Heat Vision asked the three creators about the origins of the book, and why it’s better to tell a story where someone other than a skinny white boy finds out they might be the next King Arthur.
You’ve all worked together since 2012 before this project, on the underrated Amelia Cole series from Monkeybrain and IDW. Did The Once and Future Queen come from a “Let’s find something new to do together” impulse, or do it’s origins lie elsewhere?
D.J. Kirkbride, co-writer: It’s the former. Adam and I had been writing together before Amelia Cole, but it’s almost as if this Larry and Moe found our Curly when we met Nick. Working on that series for 30 issues represented a great creative time for us, and we all learned so much. When the planned end was nigh, continuing our creative comic book makin’ triumvirate was a top priority. The opportunity to start something new with almost five years of working together under our collective belt felt and feels exciting.
Nick Brokenshire, artist: For me, Amelia is Adam, D.J. and I getting up a head of steam. I did a lot of learning during the making of Amelia Cole because I came late to the comics game. By the time the story was over, I was like, “OK, I’m ready! Let’s make a comic!” So the lads came to me with the idea of this twist on Arthurian legend and I was all in. I love anything based on British lore and myth.
Adam P. Knave: D.J. and I have known each other for a long time and we love co-writing with each other. We also love, love, love working with Nick. He can draw anything and make it look good. Emotional scenes, action, you name it, we know that whatever we imagine we will get something even cooler back. So, for as long as they’ll let me I’ll fight to find new projects with these two.
There’s so much going on in this first issue: introducing the core trio of characters (a quartet, if you include Merlin, whose space suit look was a particular surprise), and also more mythologies than just Arthurian legend. Clearly, starting slow wasn’t the objective with this debut.
Brokenshire: I love stories where you’re thrown in at the deep end and things like magic systems and histories are revealed as you go. You have to put things together like a puzzle. There is much for the reader to figure out but don’t worry, we’ll help.
Kirkbride: Yeah, we just like hitting the ground running. Decompression can work, and I enjoy a great many books with a slower mode of storytelling, but the three of us like making fast-paced comics, where the readers AND the characters just have to hold on tight. Nick’s truly great at including a lot of info on the pages with clarity and artistry, which is a wonderful skill that Adam and I love utilizing. Also, c’mon, comics aren’t as cheap as they used to be. We want to make sure we give our readers maximum bang for their bucks.
Knave: As for Merlin, that was a D.J. moment — just something to make him feel different that still made sense for the character. I think it was also partly just envisioning how much fun Nick would have depicting the idea.
There’s a lot of talk about diversity in comics, but Queen quietly offers up a cast where Merlin is the only white guy — I was going to say straight, but that’s not even touched on in the first issue, at least. The very concept of Queen goes toward re-approaching the white hero narrative, too. This may be an obvious question, but when white male heroes tend to be seen as an easier sell in the current marketplace, why go this route?
Knave: At least partly because as long as we have to answer this question it means this is all still deeply important. I could, personally in everything I ever write, never write a cishet white male again and they would still be the overwhelming majority of fictional leads. White male heroes are the easier sell because they’re the majority of what has been done. But look at Aliens, Jessica Jones, Hunger Games, Hidden Figures — nonwhite male leads do just fine if they’re allowed to happen. So let’s make them happen! Representation matters. Also from a story perspective if we did a story where a cishet white guy becomes King of the World…. We know how that goes. We do. We’ve seen it countless times. But a bisexual, mixed-race, dark-skinned woman? Now we’re cooking with fire. It opens up countless avenues that many stories ignore/don’t want/don’t go for. I mean, hell, I pass for a cishet white guy. I’m not straight, I’m bi, but good luck telling when you meet me and that’s fine, but I want stories about that, too. We all do. We all should.
Brokenshire: What Adam said. Aaaand because white male heroes are boring. Also, I want to know what a bisexual, half-Indian, blue-haired, punk-rock, chess prodigy would do if somebody gave her Excalibur and made her Queen! Why? Because I’ve never seen that before! That’s fun, right there.
Kirkbride: Representation is important. Like Adam said, there will never be a shortage of cishet white male comic book heroes. When presented with this question during our Amelia Cole run, and now with The Once and Future Queen, I’m always reminded of growing up as a straight white boy with blue eyes, dark hair, and a big ole jaw. I liked being able to play Superman with the thought that, you know, I kinda had a similar look (minus the muscles) — and I also pined after the cool Lois Lane-type ladies. People of all genders and races and orientations should be able to have that kind of experience when reading comics, or enjoying any entertainment medium. As for doing it without self-aggrandizement, well, even if our characters didn’t have invading monsters and magical weapons bestowed upon them to deal with, that’s just how it should be.
The story takes place, in part, in Portland, Oregon. It’s not the most obvious selection for a story about Arthurian legend and the future of Excalibur, although it is the hometown for a number of comic publishers and, in fact, Adam himself. Is that why it makes an appearance here?
Knave: This is actually Nick’s fault! He was over here in Portland and mentioned a bunch of the town felt like Cornwall, up Mt. Hood at least, and it sparked an idea that we could use that, that people didn’t use that and, hey, why not go for it? There’s a connection there, and one we only scratch the surface on so far, but it means something. There are other reasons but I don’t want to give away story stuff to explain them.
Kirkbride: The geographic similarity was a very cool discovery. Having much of this fantastical story take place in the real world, in specific locations, helps ground it some. We get to feature a little familiar with all the crazy.
Brokenshire: I like magical places. Oregon is definitely magical. Scotland is magical. Cornwall. Ireland. Norway. The Grand Canyon…. Places where you can put your hand on a piece of ground that has been there for centuries. Millennia, even. That’s where magic resides. If you start plonking cities and machines and bloody pipelines onto those places, you interrupt the flow of time and nature. The magic is broken.
Knave: And broken magic makes for good story.
Nick’s art in Amelia Cole was always good, but Queen feels like a step up, with line work, colors and even the letters, all popping off the page. Was this merely the result of working on Amelia for five years, or was there a specific shift in the approach to the artwork for this series?
Brokenshire: I had a very specific idea as to how I’d approach the art on this book. This is one of the lessons learned from Amelia Cole where I was kind of all over the place stylistically…. I devised a look to the art. I amassed specific references for the people in the book and developed a very fixed formula for doing the colors. This book needed to look coherent visually. I worked very closely with Frank Cvetkovic developing the lettering approach. Frank responded to my requests and developed a tremendous lettering system that really ties the art together superbly, in my opinion. We’re lucky to have him, I tell thee.
Kirkbride: Adam and I are the biggest Nick Brokenshire fans in the world, and we’re over the dang moon with how beautiful this book looks! The character work, the clarity of action, and those amazing colors coupled with Frank’s lettering artistry make it look unlike any book on the stands or in the apps.
Knave: Every inch of this book is swoonworthy.
Last question, and it’s a basic one: The Once and Future Queen is, in many ways, a comic that sidesteps the traditional mainstream comic book tropes in favor of doing something else. So how would you sell it to an audience that doesn’t traditionally buy comic books?
Knave: If you want adventure, once-familiar myth, action, and romance all at once? Then you want this comic.
Kirkbride: Bold heroes and terrifying monsters! Big magical swords — and an ax! C’mon, what more do you need? A future ghost wizard? OK, we have that, too, readers!
The Once and Future Queen No. 1 is currently available digitally and in comic book stores. Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride will both be exhibiting in Artist’s Alley at Emerald City Comic Con, which runs March 2-5 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.