It is amazing to think that only last year a new company and a new comic franchise was launched in Dundee. This was Diamond Steel Comics with the superhero Saltire. This was originally thought of as a way to refute an argument when creator John Ferguson was told Scotland could not have its own superhero. The challenge spurred John to create Saltire and in conjunction with Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD) , the first book, Saltire: Invasion, was launched at Dundee Comics Day 2013. The second book, Saltire: Annihilation Part 1, was released in time to be on sale prior to the Scottish Independence Referendum on 19th September 2014.
To deconstruct some of the processes that led to the book, a Q&A session was held at the University of Dundee on Saturday 25th October 2014 as part of the annual Dundee Comics Day event. The panel included the creator John Ferguson, letterer Phillip Vaughan cunningly disguised as Course Director MSc Animation & Visualisation at DJCAD and the art team Claire Roe (artist) and Lauren Knight (colourist) with Jim Devlin (covers) and Norrie Millar (artist on the short story Saltire: Desperation).
John began by explaining that he had wanted to create a hero that was unique to Scotland, but not loaded with Tartan Twee that is most often considered as Scottish culture. He was aiming for Caledonian Cool and hasn’t missed the mark by much. He did tap into the global view of what a Scot is considered to be, and, when you consider that Scottish body language is very forward, it is not surprising that the world view considers Scots to be aggressive, ginger and liable to partake of a libation or three!
As a fairly well-travelled Scot, I have to say that this is an unusual step for someone to take. It’s an attempt to redefine a national identity by implication. And from the feedback that John has received by travelling to local schools, it’s an attempt that is beginning to take root.
Phillip took control of the discussion as we ventured into the creative waters of using artists. His passion for art and his students shone through as he explained that while the team may be students, they still need to be treated as serious artists and remunerated as such. In fact, his first question to John on hearing his pitch was how much. This may seem mercenary, but the reality is that many artists seem to be treated as if they will create art for the sheer joy of creation. But for some strange reason, the thought of paying for art seems to be alien to many people, be they those that seek a new poster for their business or those that understand the comic business and seek to exploit newly graduated graphic designers and retain their services for little or no remuneration. After all, even starving artists in their garrets need to eat occasionally.
Montynero, the creator of Death Sentence, enquired as to the difficulty of maintaining narrative tension when your central character is immortal. A bit of a curveball, but John handled it well explaining that while Saltire may be immortal, that immortality does not preclude him from growing as a sentient being. After all, the influences illustrated illuminate the difficulty of seeing those that suffer for you when there is little that you can do to alleviate that pain.
The artists seemed to be surprised and pleased to have their opinions sought. They were happy to discuss their work and were pleased that John had taken their work to be the face of Saltire: Annihilation. John praised their hard work in getting the art ready to be published prior to the Independence Referendum as he had considered that as his hard deadline in getting the second book published. While it was left unsaid, I am quite pleased that John Ferguson has allowed each art team to define their own look rather than confine them to a “house” style. In the long run, this may benefit the readers as the artists strive to put their mark on the franchise.
It was also confirmed that there would be a total of 8 books and that it will feature elements of Scottish history. Some well-known events, some not so well-known would help to build the story.
In summary, an interesting glimpse into the back rooms of what gets a comic ready for publication and this correspondent is grateful for the opportunity to have had that glimpse. And here is a gratuitous page of the new book for you to enjoy.
• For those interested in buying the books, try Diamondsteel Comics