By Jarrod Jones. Ryan K. Lindsay can’t wait for you to read Eternal. And, if I may drop the pretense for a second here, neither can I. This stirring, bloody tale marks his latest collaboration with artist Eric Zawadzki, and it brings colorist Dee Cunniffe on board, as well. All this glorious bloodletting, courtesy of the writer of Beautiful Canvas, and the art team behind The Dregs. It’s a Black Mask super-team, working at the height of their powers.
Eternal is something different, but not unheard of, for Black Mask Studios. From its inception to the moment it finally hits shelves later this month, Eternal was always meant to be an original graphic novel. A story with a beginning, a middle, and an exhilarating end. And, as far as lasting impressions go, Eternal swings for the fences.
It begins with a shieldmaiden, Vif, smashing open the collarbone of an oncoming male adversary, letting us know that, clearly, this will be a Viking story that doesn’t bother with the usual male posturing that comes with this type of tale. In fact, it focuses directly on a part of legend that has all but been written out. Then, with its beautiful imagery and its central character’s palpable wants and desires, it sneaks into your mind and devastates you.
“As for the gender dynamics, yeah, I don’t think we need to look at yet another story about a guy struggling when I know I’ve already written enough of those, no less has the market been swamped by them,” Lindsay tells me. “The concept of shieldmaidens, in such a masculine society, is instantly full of all kinds of fodder to explore.”
Mr. Lindsay spoke with me earlier this week about Eternal, working again with artist Eric Zawadzki, and the importance of the OGN in today’s comics market.
1. When I read ‘Eternal’, with its methodical pacing, its patient stretches of time, and its sudden bursts of violence, I’m sucked in. It’s a rapturous gauntlet of reading, and it reads so smoothly. How was this book paced out before you delivered this project to Eric Zawadski?
Initially, this was a 22 page one-shot. I love writing one-shots, and I love being able to get a team together for that achievable and finite amount of pages and maybe Kickstart it to get everyone paid, and then have this pure short story out in the world.
I’d have to reread that script, but I’m certain there aren’t many splash pages in it, because I never feel like I have the real estate for that good stuff. So I cram in what I can, and I send it to Eric to consider, because he’s an old mate, an old collaborator [Headspace], and a bloody brilliant artist.
He loves the script, thankfully, and then he says he wants to play around with some sequences just to bring theme to the forefront. Because Eric is a wicked storyteller, and he knows what he’s doing, so I tend to get out of his way.
What results is over 40 pages of thumbnails, and I realise we’re suddenly cooking up something very different. So I sit down with Eric and our editor, Dan Hill, and I tweak the script, and then we just all get out of Eric’s way for a while to watch the magic happen.
This is why Eric and I are sharing a writing credit on this, because Eric visually wrote so much of this story.
2. Once we read the book’s title page, we discover a killer subtitle for the book, “A Shieldmadien Ghost Story”, the book’s mission statement becomes more clear. ‘Eternal’ is a book about legacy, about the things we leave behind, but also about how some things shouldn’t be forgotten — in fact, some things need to be wiped off the pages of history. And then there’s the gender dynamics to consider. How did you go about uniting all these concepts under one banner?
Initially, ‘legacy’ was at the forefront of what I wanted to explore in this story. Because every one of our actions has a reaction, it builds a legacy over time. So I wanted to look at the choices we make and how they affect the next generation, and how that returns to affect us again.
Within that is the idea of retribution – and how far violence will push you, and if the legacy of violence ever stops sending ripples out.
As for the gender dynamics, yeah, I don’t think we need to look at yet another story about a guy struggling when I know I’ve already written enough of those, no less has the market been swamped by them. The concept of shieldmaidens, in such a masculine society, is instantly full of all kinds of fodder to explore.
3. On that tack, tell me about Bjarte, the central antagonist. In this day and age it’s difficult not to notice that he’s clearly a stand-in for something.
He’s an absolute douchebag, yep. He pretends he’s helping others — women specifically here — when it’s clearly all for himself. He’s got his idiot people to do his bidding while he creeps in the background. My favourite part is when his general tells Vif not to get emotional and she cuts him in half before he can get the full line out.
With Bjarte, I just wanted to write a scummy guy, and the fact you could say he’s standing in for a lot of modern real people says a lot of things about a lot of things. Sadly.
4. I’m curious about the violence in this book. Dee Cunniffe, the colorist, uses red in a very specific way — it’s either in service to bloodshed, or a harbinger for it. Ships come to the shore filled with warriors ready to do battle, their sails streaked in red. In a nightmare sequence, Dee gives the pit fires surrounding our lead character, Vif, an ominous crimson glow. Was this in the original script, or was this an artistic decision from the colorist? Because it works so, so well.
I very, very rarely tell a colourist what to do. I have no idea what to do, so I have no place of informed authority to come calling the shots. I work with people like Dee, and Triona Farrell, and Mark Dale, and Marissa Louise, to get out of their way, and to make sure they’re getting the opportunity to contribute to the story and have artistic fun along the way, too.
5. What kind of feedback did you get from Black Mask when you pitched this book as a standalone OGN? Were they behind this approach from the start?
I must say, Matt Pizzolo at Black Mask was pretty dang fantastic about this book. It’s not what the market, or a publisher, wants at this stage — but he believed in me and in Eric. He knew this wouldn’t be a lightning rod for cash, but he thought it could be something special. I’m forever grateful that Black Mask seem much more interested in great comics, than they do in safe money. It’s a place where creativity can thrive.
I particularly appreciated after we sent the complete files and story to him and he emailed to express how much he thought we crushed it on this one. So I hope it does sell a bunch and do well for them.
6. There are a couple of moments where Vif cracks open the collarbone of an oncoming would-be assailant with her sword. Blood splashes everywhere, and by the next panel, the foe has been felled. It’s cathartic to watch, largely because we’re living in a time where men are being held to account for misdeeds either oppressive, sexual, or both. How much of that is a part of ‘Eternal’?
This was written a fairly long while ago, so I guess it could have been prophetic. But mostly, I think seeing women smash up the patriarchy a little, sometimes even literally, is always going to be an enjoyable read.
7. How much did you rely on historical research? Did you simply have this sudden impulse to tell a vicious Viking story, or had something inspired you to tell it?
I’ve long been interested in, and inspired by, Vikings. There are many fascinating aspects from the aesthetic, to the underlying culture, to the battles and weapons. Hell, even the locations and weather feel like perfect aspects for stories.
There was no initial spark of interest for this story, just that ghost story aspect came to me, and I teased it out as I learnt more about the characters.
8. Without giving anything away, ‘Eternal’ very much has its own definitive ending. Was there a pang of regret that came with knowing that you might never revisit this world again?
Most definitely, especially once you see how Eric creates and illustrates everything. You instantly want to get back into it. But I’m also a firm believer that the best stories have firm endings, so I wanted to land this one as hard as I could.
Though you never ever really know if there could be more, right…?
9. How important to you think the OGN is to the current comics market? How important to you think it is for both long-standing and burgeoning readerships?
I think paperback editions are the backbone of things because they’re evergreen, they’re so easy to get someone for a present, or as a suggestion of what they should try. Especially when it is a standalone story. Issues are where I grew up, and they were affordable, and they certainly have their place, but a spined edition is something that lives its own life.
Now that this has done so well, I would love to do more in this vein.
10. You’ve said that you wrote ‘Eternal’ specifically for Eric Zawadzki. What do you think would have happened had Eric passed on the project?
The script would probably have gathered pixels in my Google Drive folder and been another one that got away.
‘Eternal’ hits stores with a vengeance January 31. You can read our advance review here.