In Review: Boudicca by Neal Romanek and Johan Swärd

Boudicca - Cover

Writer: Neal Romanek
Artist: Johan Swärd
Published by Markosia

The Book: Britain. An island paradise, rich with gold and silver – and the world’s most powerful military machine wants it all for itself. The country and its tribes have been hammered into one unified colony, under one law – Roman law.

When the king of the Iceni dies, his wife, Boudicca, is left with a decision: continue her husband’s path of compromise with the Roman invaders, or be true to the voice of freedom inside her.

With the help of a brilliant young druid named, Boudicca’s choice ignites one of the bloodiest revolts in Roman history, a tragic inferno which will enshrine her as one of history’s greatest icons of freedom and rebellion.

Drawn by Johan Swärd and written by Neal Romanek, Boudicca depicts the harsh and beautiful world of an imagined Celtic Britain in vivid detail – its gods and wild landscapes, its sacred sites and battle lore, and its poet-priests and its warrior-queens.

Boudicca - Sample Art

The Review: Getting its official launch later this month, Boudicca is a bloody, no holds-barred beast of a graphic novel from first time graphic novelists, writer Neal Romanek and artist Johan Swärd.

It also held me for all 150-plus pages, a magnificent telling of the Boudicca story, despite a familiarity with the tale of the rebel Queen from the various fictional versions recounted down the years (including, in all probability, the initial version, told by Román historian Tacitus).

Script-wise, the story is pretty densely told. (Neal explains how he first visualised the story as a film in his preface, but if others hadn’t gotten there recently before him, I’d argue this should have made a good TV mini series). But Neal has a strong ear for dialogue and while I think an even longer format would have given Johan’s art more room to breathe, the story is well told and the characterisation strong, particularly for the young, enamoured Druid, Fox.

Boudicca - Sample Art

As with Tacitus’ original brief account of Boudicca’s uprising, neither side comes out of this version of the Boudicca story smelling of roses. Roman corruption, particularly that of the deliciously vile procurator of Britain, Catus Decianus, causes much of the horror that follows the death of Boudicca’s warrior leader husband; but Boudicca isn’t above a bit of deceit at Roman expense, either.

While in reality we know little of the ancient Druids, save from Welsh and Irish myth (and even then, there’s conflicting research on those references), Neal conjures an intriguing portrayal of the mysterious religious figures that held sway over the Celts. It’s their mystery and machinations – with a nod, perhaps, to the way the witches are portrayed in Shakespeare’s Macbeth – that on occasion drive their story in the piece.

That neither side proves either “good” or “bad” in this well-realised telling of Boudicca’s story is not only a powerful plot device but a reflection on the wider issues of conflict and power – particularly, misused power – that resonates down the centuries to our own troubled times.

To sum impressions up: Boudicca is a terrific graphic novel from two new talents to the medium. Highly recommended.

• An official launch of Boudicca will occur in conjunction with a site which featured in Boudicca’s story (in addition to books and comics stores, the creative team have been liaising with cultural institutions like the British Museum and the Museum Of London).

Boudicca is available from all good brick and mortar comic stores, ComiXology and other online stores, including Amazon

• Neal Romanek is online at www.nealromanek.com | Follow Johan Swärd on Instagram @swertte

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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