Answers in Blood: An Interview with “Vikings” comic writer Cavan Scott

Vikings #1 Cover A
Vikings #1 Cover A by Shane Pierce

Cavan Scott counts himself lucky to work in the worlds that first sparked his imagination as a kid. He writes the Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor comic for Titan, is one of the writers of the Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Space series of novels for children (as well as the young at heart) and up until recently, produced Blake’s 7 audios for Big Finish Productions. His first Sherlock Holmes novel, The Patchwork Devil, was published last week.

Cavan Scott. Photo courtesy the author
Cavan Scott. Photo courtesy the author

He is also the writer of Vikings, a new four-issue mini series drawn by Staz Johnson based on the popular MGM/History Channel series of the same name, which launches this week from Titan Comics, and downthetubes caught up with him to find out more about his latest work…

downthetubes: Can you tell us a bit about this project and the setting in the show’s Third Season?

Cavan Scott: Godhead takes part early on in the season, as Ragnar and Lagertha are trying to establish a Viking settlement in England, during an uneasy alliance with the King of Wessex, Ecbert. We chose the third season as by now Ragnar is undisputed King, although there are members of his warband – most noticeable fan-favourite Floki – who is concerned that Ragnar is being seduced by the Christian faith. I was also keen to place it there, as it meant that we could run two storylines concurrently – Ragnar and the others off exploring, while his wife Aslaug faces a threat from within back home in Ragnar’s place.

downthetubes: For those of us who came in late, what’s the appeal of Vikings that’s made it such a success, with a fifth season already commissioned?

Cavan: I think it’s because the show isn’t just raiding and pillaging, although that’s a big part of it of course. As a bit of a Viking geek I was incredibly pleased to see showrunner Michael Hirst focusing on the Vikings’ life at home; how they live, their customs and also their religion, which is endlessly fascinating. The show doesn’t shy away from the violent nature of the Vikings, but portrays them as rounded, if often terribly flawed, characters – and what characters they are. Ragnar the reluctant king, Lagertha the fierce shield maiden turned Earl, Rollo the traitorous brother and of course Floki, the pagan fundamentalist. And that’s only the beginning. Such a rich cast.

downthetubes: Vikings is the latest of a number of licensed titles you’ve written. Do you think there’s a difference in the way you approach such projects, as opposed to work you have freer rein on, such as your new Sherlock Holmes novel, The Patchwork Devil? I’m thinking here of the limitations of not being able to do much in terms of character development, and how you avoid the ‘reset’ trap?

Cavan: Obviously, when you work on a licensed property, you have to remain true to the source material. I can’t suddenly change Ragnar’s nature, or kill off a major character, but hopefully I can find ways to show them in a different light, bringing out aspects of the characters that we haven’t necessarily seen on screen.

Viking #1 - Page 1

Viking #1 - Page 2
Art from Vikings #1 by Staz Johnson, written by Cavan Scott

The great thing about Vikings is that it takes place over a long period of time, so it’s quite easy to find places to fit new stories. Obviously you can also show the regulars with new characters, which again changes the way they act or behave. After all, we’re all different people, depending on who we’re with – our families, friends, work-mates and so on. A good tie-in builds on what you’ve seen.

With something like the Patchwork Devil, I have more freedom to do my own thing. Yes, Holmes and Watson are established characters, and have to behave as you’d expect, but I was free to create my own world around them – in this case, set just after the Great War in a mystery that sets them against a monster of a man who may be familiar to fans of classic horror.

downthetubes: This is a an all-new story, so does that mean there will be some new characters created that you can “play with” a little more?

Cavan: Yes. In Wessex we see a new noble, Ethelwold, who decides he must do something about these Vikings who he feels have an unhealthy influence over the King. There is also a rival band of Vikings for Ragnar to cross swords with, plus, back home at Kattegat, a Sami woman by the name of Jaska who starts causing trouble among the women of the village.

The cats of Vikings from Season 3, the setting for the new comic. Image: MGM/History Channel
The cats of Vikings from Season 3, the setting for the new comic. Image: MGM/History Channel

downthetubes: What was the appeal of writing this book? Are you a fan of Dark Age history (or as much as we know about it)?

Cavan: As I said, I’m a bit of a Viking geek. I have been ever since I visited the Jorvik Viking Centre in York. It’s a recreation of an old Viking settlement which utterly captured my imagination. I joined the Jorvik club, raided the library for books, read the sagas and discovered the delights of Marvel’s very own Thunder God. OK, that last one wasn’t so factual, but Thor only fuelled my love of the Northmen and their world.

Vikings produce an almost visceral reaction in us, probably as most people in the UK probably share a scrap of Viking DNA. They’re brutal and mysterious, from their piracy to their religion. The sense of wonder that grabbed me then has stayed with me ever since.

It’s little wonder that I watched the MGM show from episode one, and had already talked to Titan about a Vikings-based creator-owned comic. Those conversations, rather wonderfully, got them to think of me when the license came their way. ‘Would I be interested?’ they said, and I bit their hand off!

downthetubes: How do you approach such a project initially? Was it a matter of sitting down and watching the whole series so far, or do you have access to background material, too – character bibles etc.?

Cavan: I’d already watched every episode, although it gave me a great opportunity to go back and re-warch. But the story itself came from the history books. I had jotted down a fact in my notebook a couple of years ago, about the Vikings’ slave trade with the Moors of Spain, which I dug out as soon as we started to discuss the comic. The mini-series spun out of that. I hit the books and found out more, wondering how the characters we’ve seen on screen would react if they were dropped into a similar situation.

Pencils for the cover of Titan Comics Vikings #2 by Staz Johnson
Pencils for the cover of Titan Comics Vikings #2 by Staz Johnson

downthetubes: How much contact did you have with artist Staz Johnson at the development stage, or how much did you have as the script took shape?

I think I’d written the first issue before Staz was brought on board, but since then we’ve been chatting on email, and discussing the way the story develops. We also share a love of Conan comics, so it’s been great to discuss those too. Staz has been great, bringing a gritty edge to the action.

downthetubes: What’s the plan in terms of story length and how far ahead have you roughed out the book?

Cavan: It’s a four-issue mini-series, although I hope there will be more to come. I finished scripting issue four last week, but have plenty of ideas buzzing around my head.

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #1 (Ongoing) - Preview 1
Art from the ongoing Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #1, on sale now

downthetubes: Vikings is just one project you’re working on for Titan Comics; you’re also writing their ongoing Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor book. Are their any other projects in the works – a creator owned project you’d like to get out there, perhaps?

CavanNothing I can talk about at the moment unfortunately! I’ve been chatting to a number of publishers in the United States about future projects, both work for hire and also creator owned, but these are in the early stages right now. Hopefully I’ll be able to talk about them more in future, so watch this space. I recently made my Vertigo debut, with a story in Vertigo Quarterly: SFX, and am keen to spread my wings more stateside

Doctor Who Event 2016: Supremacy of the Cybermen #1 Cover C by Fabio Listrani
Doctor Who Event 2016: Supremacy of the Cybermen #1 Cover C by Fabio Listrani

As for Titan, yes, there are the ongoing adventures of the Ninth Doctor, plus Titan’s summer event, Supremacy of the Cybermen, which I’m co-writing with George Mann. I’ve also just finished a Penguins of Madagascar mini-series, Elitest of the Elite, and have another children’s series in the works. And, of course, I keep my hand in with The Beano, currently writing the weekly exploits of Bananaman and Minnie the Minx.

downthetubes: Finally, what one piece of advice would you give an aspiring comic writer?

Cavan: Don’t wait for anyone to give you permission. Just start writing comics. Find scripts by the pros, see how they do it, learn from their work and then do your own thing, bringing what you love about the comics to the medium. Tell the stories you’d like to read.

Vikings #1 is on sale in all good comic shops from Wednesday 27th April, including Forbidden Planet

• Cavan Scott in online at http://cavanscott.com | follow Cavan on Twitter @cavanscott | Facebook | Amazon.co.uk

• For more about the Vikings TV show visit www.history.com/shows/vikings

• Read our interview with Vikings artist Staz Johnson here

• Check out our fun “Sneak Preview” of Vikings #1 from Titan Comics here

• Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor comics are available from all good comic shops, including Forbidden Planet

Sherlock Holmes: The Patchwork Devil by Cavan Scott is on sale in all good bookshops now

London, 1919. While the world awaits the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Holmes and Watson are called to a singular mystery. A severed hand has been found on the banks of the Thames, a hand belonging to a soldier who supposedly died in the trenches. But the hand is fresh, and show signs that it was recently amputated. So how has it ended up back in London two years after its owner was killed?

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor – Weapons of Past Destruction was released as a collection by Titan Comics in March

Travelling with his beloved companion, Rose Tyler, the Doctor discovers a cache of weapons left behind after the Time War that destroyed his people. To his horror he finds they are being bought and sold on the black market!

• Read Matt Badham’s review of the ongoing Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #1 written by Cavan Scott here

• Cavan Scott, Rob Williams and Rachael Stott will be signing the Forbidden Planet Exclusive Variant Edition of the FCBD Doctor Who Comic at Forbidden Planet London Megastore on 7th May at 1.00pm

Listen to the 2015 Doctor Who Panel to Panel Podcast interview with Cavan Scott

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a “freelance comics operative”, currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY.

John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor.

He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY.

Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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