The legends and myth of Ireland are rich with fantastic tales, and every child in Ireland learns about them and indeed studies them as part of the regular curriculum. Therefore, presenting one of these stories that excites the reader, a reader like me who not only knows the story of The Cattle Raid of Cooley, but read the tales in its traditional language, is never going to be easy.
Yet Will Sliney succeeds with Celtic Warrior (published by O’Brien Press), and he does so cleverly, using the medium of comics totally to his advantage, with imagery and facial representations portraying a depth to characters while also filling the page with wide vistas and creating fantastic perspective to bring a real feeling of the larger-than-life nature that this story encompasses. Sliney has added his own elements and been smart with the portrayal of characters without deviating from the classic message, making this a very exciting comic.
I have to say, that I was rather impressed, and I decided to track the artist and writer down and get some of the questions that were in my mind answered.
James: This comic feels more in the vein of Conan and Slaine than traditional Irish tellings of the story of the Cattle Raid of Cooley. Was this on purpose on your part, and if so, what were you trying to do here?
Will: Conan, and especially Slaine, pull an awful lot of their influences from the old Irish mythological stories and Cú Chulainn in particular, so I think it’s actually the other way around. While every artist these days is inspired by greats like Frazetta, who worked on Conan, I purely wanted to tell the story in the comic book style that I have developed myself over the years. The story is quite superheroic in nature, with Cu Chúlainn possibly being the first ever example of a story with a superpowered hero.
James: Cu Chúlainn could have been a difficult character to develop. Much is told in legend, but how did you go about making him more detailed?
Will: Luckily I had loads to work with. The original stories fascinated me as a child and they have been told so many different ways over the last 2000 years that I had plenty to inspire me
James: What were the elements you felt you brought to your interpretation of the story?
Will: I tried to tell the story from a viewpoint we had never seen before, i.e. from the point of view of the army marching towards him. I replaced the story of the wreath with the ash tree. That part is new to the mythology but I pulled it from more Irish folklore.
James: How do you feel that improved the story?
Will: I think following the army frames the story quite well, using them to trigger flashbacks so we can learn of Cú Chulainn as they do. The most important part of the book for me was to give the reader a full and complete story of Cú himself, pulling from all parts of his life.
James: Queen Maeve seems to be a little darker than I have read. What were you trying to do here?
Will: I wanted the story to focus more on Cú Chulainn too so I made Maeve more of a typical villain. I also thought “Queen Maeve of the friendly thighs” was a bit too full on for what I was going for. It allowed me to get straight into the story with an unflinching army of loyal warriors all pointing their swords towards Cú Chulainn.
James: The use of colour, especially the orange skies, is terrific. Why orange?
Will: All of the skies are based off photos I took in Ireland. I was lucky to capture some incredibly powerful images. The orange was to set it either at sunrise, or sundown, which could speak of the war coming to an end, or the end of Cú Chulainn’s life, but also speaks of a new day for Ireland.
James: The sepia sections telling Cu Chulainn’s back story is neat, and you were able to portray it well. Did changing from colour to black on sepia cause you any issues?
Will: I needed a framing device for the flashbacks, so that the reader would know instantly that it was set at a different time. It was fairly easy to implement; in fact it was a lot easier to do compared to some of the coloured scenes.
James: The artistic portrayal of the fantastic seems to add a larger than life feeling. Was this part of what you wanted to do?
Will: I really wanted an epic feel to the book. The stories it is based on are some of the greatest stories of all time.
And those were indeed my questions answered. I think that the alteration of Maeve works very well, and I also felt that the battle scenes and the fights were drawn possessing great movement.
I suppose I just honestly had curbed my expectations, but I need to alter that now. Irish creators are continually surprising me, and this is at all levels. For fans of classic fantasy and mythology this is a cracking story, well told, and for those who have any interest in Irish legends, well, this is brilliant. Will Sliney will be signing copies of Celtic Warrior in Forbidden Planet Belfast from 4pm on Thursday May 30th.