A good fantasy story must have a monster, or two or three. In order to make a good monster, you have to leave room for mystery, though sometimes you can get away with just making a monster that is large and powerful; thus the success of the Godzilla and King Kong franchises. People inherently fear what they don’t know or understand, and as writers, we have to prey on that fear. I had to create a character that was mysterious enough the readers would feel a sense of dread.
Like so many writers before me, I had a very active imagination as a child, and I had frequent nightmares. Stephen King talked about how as a boy, he imagined a creature living under the stairs waiting to snatch him; I had similar experiences. I imagined all sorts of monsters creeping in the woods behind my childhood home. When I would stay with my grandparents as a child, the room I normally slept in had a window that faced a patch of woods, and every night I always imagined something terrible was out there, lurking.
In the first book of Legend of the Sword Bearer, I introduced the Hunter. He only appears in a few frames, just so the readers know he exists. The characters talk about him to create suspense. This is vitally important in any kind of horror writing. The writer must create suspense. You can have all the blood and violence in your book, but if there’s no suspense, it won’t have the same impact. Look at some of the classic Alfred Hitchcock films, and TV shows like The Twilight Zone, and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I can’t tell the reader everything, or there will be no surprise.
The idea of the Hunter is present in nearly every culture; the bogeyman who stalks the night searching for human prey. Many of these mythological beings have animal features, such as horns and hooves. The Hunter himself is based on Herne the Hunter, a being of British folklore who is said to roam the forest at night and abduct children and livestock. He may have descended from an even older legend of the Celtic Horned God. As I said, there are similar beings found in many of the world’s myths. In Hebrew myth, there exist beings known as Shedim, who are spirits of uninhabited places. They too are said to have animal features and are associated with misfortune. This is probably a holdover from the human sacrifice once practiced among the Celtic and Semitic peoples long ago.
It seems that we humans create fictional monsters in order to confront challenges in real life within the confines of myth and legend. In a sense, monsters are real and we have to confront them. As poet G.K. Chesterton said “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."
Every hero needs a villain, right? Villains make a hero interesting. They’re evil contrasts the hero’s virtue, and makes the hero seem more heroic in most cases. What’s important to remember is that the villain is the hero of their own story.
When I chose the villain of Legend of the Sword Bearer, I needed someone who was connected with the original King Arthur stories, upon which the Sword Bearer saga is based. Mordred stood out. Mordred, according to legend, was either Arthur’s illegitimate son, or his nephew, (in some versions, both) who took over while Arthur was away questing. When Arhur and his knights returned to Camelot, Mordred refused to surrender the throne. This escalated until Arthur and Mordred met at the Battle of Camlann, where Arthur and Mordred mortally wounded each other. Mordred died (or did he?) and Arthur was carried away to the isle of Avelon to be healed by the fairies.
In Legend of the Sword Bearer, Mordred reappears in the guise of Malcolm Masters, president of West Country Energy, and parliamentary candidate. Mordred’s goal is the same as always; take control of the government, and remake Britain in his own image. It’s important to remember that most villains are the hero of their own story. Mordred doesn’t see himself as evil. To him, good and evil are simply inconvenient concepts getting in the way of getting the job done. All cards on the table, I based my Mordred on Marvel’s Loki as portrayed by Tom Hiddleston. Unlike Loki, Mordred will have no redemption arc. It’s too late for him.
By now you’re probably thinking “how is it Mordred has survived for so long? Where has he been?” I will leave these questions to be answered in upcoming installments of Legend of the Sword Bearer.
Also, writing and drawing comics isn’t free. If you could do me a big favor and throw a few bucks in my Ko-Fi fund, that would be very helpful. Thanks in advance.
Let’s talk about art for a while. When I discovered the thriving indie webcomic community, I found that all the artists I followed were using these digital art tablets. I decided that before I could publish my comics, I needed to purchase one of these tablets. Then I saw the price tag. I think my wallet screamed audibly. I decided that I’d need to get a much higher paying job before I could ever afford to buy one.
So what’s a poor cheapskate to do? About this same time, I discovered chisel-tipped markers. Up until that point, I’d been using rounded, brush-tips for all my inking. They worked OK, but I knew I could do better. Then I started chisel-tips. That was a game-changer. My inking looked twice as good, and it was a lot easier to get the effects I wanted. My art looked more and more like the artists I loved from the Marvel Age of comics that I loved. That’s when I decided my art was good enough to publish.
I said above that I didn’t have a graphics tablet, and I still don’t, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use digital effects at all. I used digital extensively during the first year publishing Legend of the Sword Bearer, and I still do. Most of it is done the old fashioned way, but digital makes it look much cleaner, and it’s faster and easier, sometimes. But it lacks a certain human touch. Even if I could afford a graphics tablet, I don’t think I’d use it that much. I just prefer that feeling of a real pen in my hand. I’ve trained myself to use those tools, and I don’t know how well I’d adapt. Oh well. I’ll always be old fashioned.
A hero shouldn’t go questing alone. That’s why I added Archibald “Stumpy” Stumbledon to my cast of characters. I create some of my best characters on the spur of the moment, with almost no thought going into them beforehand, and Stumpy certainly fits the bill.
Creating a sidekick is just as difficult as creating a viable hero, if not more so. I had to avoid the pitfall of creating a goofy character to show how awesome the hero is. No, Stumpy is heroic in his own right. It’s also a temptation to make the sidekick just someone for the hero to talk to with no discernable personality traits. Stumpy has his own ideas, and he Bran don’t always agree. Stumpy offsets Bran’s impulsiveness with an even temper and common sense.
It’s probably obvious to most of you that Stumpy is based on Sam Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings. Bran and Stumpy see each other as equals, though; no “Mr. Bran” from Stumpy. Like Bran, I needed someone with the skills to make sure Bran didn’t get himself killed. Stumpy was a scrum-half in his school rugby team, and also a champion marksman. He’s definitely someone you want on your team.
Setting the stage for a story is vitally important. After all, it’s hard to make things happen if you don’t know when or where they’re happening. You’re just stumbling around like Dr. Who, not knowing where you’re going next. For my legend of the Sword Bearer, I had to set things up properly, thus the prologue at the beginning was necessary. There’s even more backstory that I’ll get into at another time.
In a very early draft of the Legend, Bran lived in a low-rent flat in London. I scrapped that, mostly because it was terrible, and it didn’t make much sense, given how the story unfolded later. The main part of Book 1 takes place in the fictional village of West Thorndyke, UK. West Thorndyke is located in West Country, which is the peninsula that juts out underneath Wales (please refer to the map). I chose West Country, mostly because it’s unfamiliar to most Americans. It has an air of mystery to it, and I loved the sound of the West Country accent. Additionally, West Country was once an important center of Celtic Culture. Cornwall, which is on the outermost part of West Country, loomed large in King Arthur stories. Standing stones, ancient gravesites, faeries; you name it, you can find it in West Country. The SHERLOCK episode “The Hounds of Baskerville” was shot on location in West Country. After I saw that episode, I knew I’d picked the right place for sure.
I grew up in small country towns, and I imagine they’re very much alike across the English speaking world. They all have they’re little quirks. They have their own culture, and way of speaking and doing things. They all have their town characters. West Thorndyke is no exception. The people are your average farming folk. Many of them, like Daphne, work at the electrical plant. Daphne and Bran are some of the only people of the town who aren’t from there. I know how that feels. Living in a military family, I wasn’t born in the towns where I grew up, and neither were my parents. Sometimes we were treated almost like foreigners. That’s just the culture of some small towns; it can take a long time to get people to accept you. When the story begins, Bran has lived in West Thorndyke long enough that the people there have accepted him, and he’s now become a fixture of the village.
Developing a character can be... complicated. Especially when that character is the hero of your story. On one level, I wanted my main character, Bran, to be a classical hero, not an anti-hero, which seems to be the popular trend right now. At the same time, I couldn’t allow him to be a stereotypical flawless hero, like some character off an old melodrama. He had to have some grit to him.
In the original draft of Legend of the Sword Bearer, Bran was more of a reluctant hero. When he first came to learn about magic, he refused to believe it. He didn’t want to go questing, or anything like that. Then I realized he was behaving like a stubborn, cowardly, jack-wagon that no one would like, including me. So that version went into the round file, and I started again.
He needed to have some kind of tragedy in his life in order to be more well-rounded. This next draft, Bran’s father has died in Afghanistan years prior to the beginning of the story. This is why he never appears in the story. This is also why Bran lives with his aunt in West Country instead of Scotland where he grew up. Still, he seemed to have few flaws. I gave him a temper and a rashness which get him in trouble a lot. He also has some issues taking instructions. I think all authors put a bit of themselves into every character that they create; Bran has a bit more of me in him than I’d care to admit.
One issue I find with a lot of contemporary fantasy heroes is that they seem to instantly know how to handle weapons like swords and bows without ever having trained with them. I didn’t want that to be Bran. Bran has trained with several types of weapons, including swords. He was trained by his father and has competed in several medieval martial arts tournaments. When he picks up a blade, he knows exactly what he’s doing. They wouldn’t give King Arthur’s sword to just anyone, after all. Bran needed to have both the character traits and the skills necessary to wield it.
I'm Ian Wilson; an eccentric comic artist, just telling a story.