downthetubes had a virtual chat with Cardiff-based writer, entrepreneur, musician and game designer Sam Roads about his latest comics project, the terrific-looking Cryowulf, now seeking support on Kickstarter – a gender-flipped retelling of Beowulf, set on a long-abandoned space-station.
Sam trained as a composer, joint owns five businesses, and has won two international Origins awards for game development. After an extensive career in game design (he ran the game of The Lord of the Rings on Facebook), he’s turned to writing graphic novels in the past few years, with Pat Mills, creator of 2000AD, describing his work as “masterful”. His first project, Kristo, was well received, and Silicon Heart (part funded by a bursary from Literature Wales) was released in 2015.
In Cryowulf, things are not going so well for apprentice Crow. Her tribe lives in fear, her best friend is dying, and her mentor isn’t letting up over that tiny slip with the fusion reactor. She wonders if life might be better if only folk learned to read…
It’s not going so well for pod trooper Woolf. One stasis tour from retirement the alarm clock never went off and she slept through the end of the world. Now she’s far in the future, low on ammo, and really, really ticked off…
downthetubes: What is Cryowulf?
Sam: Cryowulf is a gender-flipped retelling of Beowulf, set on a long-abandoned space-station.
It’s a 9 issue comic series about a obstinate girl in a future dark age. Her tribe tend the clockwork reactor which keeps a space-station functional, with no understanding of the technology, and an edict against even learning to read. The ‘unwomen’ are blamed for the ‘fall’, so society is matriarchal and almost every character from the original story is female.
downthetubes: Why gender-flip anything?
Sam: We’re inured to stories with male protagonists. It’s seen as just normal, though it shouldn’t be. At the moment, making an all female story is newsworthy, and the only way to stop that is to normalise it. Which is done by making more stories with diverse protagonists.
downthetubes: Tell us more about the setting.
Sam: It’s a space-station sited over the black hole Cygnus X1. Formerly it powered the entire galaxy, but after a catastrophe it has been nearly dormant for a millennium.
(The physics behind power from a black hole is pretty cool. It involves a small ring singularity locking the station in space and capturing the rotational energy! Did you know Cygnus X1 rotates around 700 times a second?)
Since the screens went dark, the society that survived has regressed to a dark age, with new religions, language and customs. And a veneration of the ‘giants’ who built their world. The folk hero Eortha is said to be sleeping under the station, to rise at the time of her people’s greatest need.
downthetubes: What about Beowulf? Who is she?
Sam: Our story actually follows a girl called Crow, who is analagous to Unferth in Beowulf. I originally decided to write this story because I felt that the original, and other version of the story, focused on the big dumb hero. I was way more interested in Unferth, who has to provoke Beowulf into doing the heroic thing.
My story has drifted many league away from the plot of Beowulf, and Crow behaves nothing like Unferth, but it seemed much more interesting to focus on the story that happens in-between the ‘hero kills monster’ part of the saga.
Crow is aided by her pragmatic sister Raven, her pugilistic friend Puffin and her ‘coming out of retirement’ grandmother Tawny Owl. And she is opposed by the megalomaniacal tribal leader Hawk, and the denizens of the dark places of the station including, of course, Grendel.
downthetubes: Still haven’t mentioned Beowulf!
Sam: The tribe believes Eortha has been sleeping. And when the station was functional it is true that pods of cryotroopers slept through peacetime, awaiting the call of battle…
downthetubes: Can you tell us about the art?
Sam: I’m working with an artistic genius called Ben Matsuya. He’s just as geeky about future civilisations as I am, and has drawn the life of the tribe in exquisite detail.
He’s also got a real knack for bringing out the emotion in the characters. And he’s using the renaissance technique of chiaroscura – lighting the scenes from specific light sources to give the kind of lighting effects you’re used to seeing in feature films.
downthetubes: What’s next?
Sam: The first issue is complete, and we’re running a Kickstarter to fund issues 2 and 3. We’d welcome support!
downthetubes: Sam, thanks for taking time to talk to us. Good luck with this project!