Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Saltire - a new graphic novel series.

Apparently I'm a Hunter of The Field... I'll have you know that
those charges concerning the sheep were never proved in a court of law
Being Scottish (Well, at least half of me is) and living up here in the beautiful North East of the country is never short of interesting. For example, we recently had something of a vote for independence up here........sadly for some reason it didn't go the way I would have liked as it seems that just over half the population of the country don't seem to mind being the on Westminster Government leash. Go figure. Anyhoo, you'll be glad to know that will be the limit of my political mutterings in this blog, after all there are far more important things happening in the world of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror - and don't you know it, but a good deal of good things are currently taking place god's own country of Scotland.

For some months now I've been meaning to run a blog article on a very exciting development in the world of the graphic novel. To be more specific, the appearance of what is arguably the first Scottish Superhero in Graphic novel form, Saltire!

When I first heard about Saltire some time ago it came as something as a surprise to me to realise that there actually had never been a superhero publication - call them comics of graphic novels (I don't mind and certainly won't get all precious about the distinction between the names) that contained Scottish set stories of mythology. For a country that is literally steeped in a rich dynamic tapestry of history and illustrious characters it simply beggars belief that no authentic Scottish superhero had been created before now. However, in some ways that might not necessarily be a bad thing, because much as I love Marvel et al, the idea of an an idealised, syrupy tartan-strewn Hollywood view of Scotland and its history might not have been the moat genuinely authentic of creations........on a not entirely separate note, anyone who ever mentions a certain 'Braveheart' in my presence will be ritually hung, drawn and quartered for crimes against historical accuracy and Scottish accents.

Saltire - Invasion was the first in a potential series of books that began what promised to be a grandiloquent odyssey through the history, mythology and country of Scotland. The Superhero in question is quite simply a big, blue and ginger creation intent on protecting his country from invasion and destruction - a bit like myself really..... well except for the big, blue and ginger bit.

The story is quite frankly a real seat-of-your-pants ride along a semi-alternate history of Scotland together with a particularly interesting variation of the account of the venerable Roman Ninth legion's infamous exploits and eventual entrance into historical folklore.

It doesn't require a huge leap of imagination to know that our redoubtable new superhero acts as the focal point to gather together his fellow guardians to defend his  homeland and defeat the Roman invaders. The problem is that the Roman invaders have been all dastardly-like and brought their very own guardians with them too. Sneaky bastards.

It all goes to provide a rich mythical tapestry for an alternative 2nd century Caledonia complete with violence, magic and a myriad of gateways to various otherworldly dominions. Thankfully too, we also have dragons,because, well, I love Dragons. We then travel to the following instalment, Inception, in which we see out new eponymous hero standing against all foe as the immutable defender and protector of his people. It's all excellent stuff.

However, don't just take my word for it, because the first book in the series has been nominated for awards including; “Best British Comic” at the prestigious True Believers Comic Awards. Not only that but sales have been doing very nice thank you at the multitude of good comic book stores where it is available.

I was lucky enough to read the latest in the Saltire series, Annihilation which found its way into stores a month or so back in September. Once again, it doesn't disappoint with a continuation of a parallel mythical history of Scotland, this time with the setting taking place  a number of centuries after the preceding books events. This time the story takes on a darker, bleaker tone in parts whilst still managing to become ever more sweeping in terms of its narrative scope. It is ambitious stuff indeed, but once again the delightful artwork and clever narration carries one along in a veritable whirlwind of exciting myth and legend. I promise you that by Annihilation you will be completely immersed in Saltire's world of Scottish mythology. Who knows how long it will be until Saltire conquers the new world, a world where an untold collection of superhero guardians are awaiting?

The author of Saltire is John Ferguson, the fabulous art is created by Gary Welsh and Tone Julskjaer and the whole thing is published by Diamondsteel Comics. Saltire: Invasion and Annihilation are epic in terms of both scale and and the high quality production. The marrying of myth, fantasy and reality fit together wonderfully well, not only managing to avoid an overdose of tartan cliche, but also to produce a story of total entertainment. Highly recommended.  

John Ferguson moves so quickly to keep up with demand
that it becomes a blur.....
A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to fire a few questions at Saltire's creator, John Ferguson, in order to find out a few more things about Scotland's first superhero.

First of all John, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to answer a few of my piercing and challenging questions for my blog website.
Q) Personally, I think a super-hero for a country that is genuinely steeped in history and vibrancy is long overdue. What was the general reaction though when you first came up with the idea?

A) The reception was interesting, most people surprised it hadn’t been done before. So it was pretty positive with a lot of intrigue in how it would be put together, would it be kitschy or a bit of tartan cringe? A Scottish superhero couldn’t be all spandex and Americana, it had to be absorbed in the history and mythology of the country. We’ve had quite a bit of main stream press and built up a real fan following within Scotland.


Q) Why a Graphic novel,  as opposed to another format?

A) I’m a big fan of spectacular visuals, and the graphic novel is an excellent medium for that without being so expensive that it becomes prohibitive. You can go epic without having to compromise.


Q) Tell us about the team behind DiamondSteel Comics.

A) We use the best up and coming talent in Scotland and work closely with the Comic Studies course at Dundee University to source the people we think can take the project forward with a fresh and dynamic visual style. We like to keep things home grown to give the Saltire universe a very authentic feel. Duncan Of Jordanstone College of Art is second to none in producing comic book artists and keeps Dundee as the home of comics after all these years.

Q) For those who have yet to read about the guy who is big, blue and ginger - can you tell people what the basis of Saltire is?

A) Saltire is an immortal being created in prehistory to protect the clans and way of life in the country of Scotland. He lives within a pseudo-history of the nation and deals with a mix of climactic historical and many mythical elements of the country’s past.


Q) I really enjoyed the mix of fantasy and history in the first two issues. Is the aim to bring in contemporary themes for future issues - such as a certain referendum that happened recently?

A) Saltire will appear in futuristic tales but nothing contemporary. The independence issue is certainly not going anywhere and we don’t want the narrative to become bogged down in heavy political rhetoric. Scotland’s history and folklore is vast so we have enough to keep readers entertained for a very long time. As creative people we certainly don’t dodge the issue and if you happen to find a few parallels within the narrative then, as they say, it’s just another case of history repeating.


Q) What can you tell us about the character of Saltire specifically, in terms of superhero vulnerability, arch enemies and possible love interests?

A) During Saltire’s creation he absorbs the vulnerability of the island clan, a difficulty with alcohol that is enhanced beyond human norms. He has a few recurring bad guys in the mix, super villains if you will, that appear at various points in Scotland’s history, but nothing cliched. And he does have a love interest but being immortal makes it pretty difficult to keep a relationship going.


Q) I've read you say that your ultimate ambition is to 'take on' the American market, in effect, to take on Batman et al in the superhero stakes. A flight of fancy or achievable?

A) Probably somewhere in between, but you never know. It’s certainly struck a cord here in Scotland and with the huge interest in all things LOTR, GOT and Outlander you never can tell just how well it will go down in the States if we can get the right distribution and move it into other mediums. Saltire has a legendary feel to it so it perhaps doesn’t need the years of growth that a modern superhero does, we’ll see.


Q) I believe that the issues are being published simultaneously in English and Gaelic. An attempt to save a dying language or further a revitalised language?

A) Yes, with a Scots language edition available this Christmas it’ll be all three languages of the country that Saltire is available in. Gaelic speakers are very passionate about keeping their language alive and we are only too delighted to help. With the success of Asterix and Tin Tin graphic novels in these languages we are hopeful for these titles success. Young Gaelic readers have never had a superhero to get their teeth in to and the response so far has been great.


Q) So any plans for a Dorrick version for us in the North East of Scotland? :-)

A) Not just yet but if the interest is there, you never know.


Q) So what does the future hold for DIAMONDSTEEL COMICS?

A) We’ve got eight books in the Saltire series, and a few short stories to add along the way,that we’ll release through other titles. We really want to break the international market next and beyond that we’d like to publish other non-Saltire work from other creators and writers, although that’s probably a couple of years away. It’s Big Blue all the way in the mean time.


Once again - I'd like to say a big thank John for taking time out of his busy schedule and answering my questions.

For more information on how you can acquire information about Saltire and how to acquire the comic then John and the team can be contacted by the various means below.

The Saltire Facebook page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/saltirecomics

The Website can be located at http://www.diamondsteelcomics.com
Or you can email the good people via info@diamondsteelcomics.com







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