D.J. Kirkbride is the writer of The Bigger Bang and The Biggest Bang. Adam P. Knave is the writer of Artful Daggers: Fifty Years Later. Together they have written the Amelia Cole series and Never Ending. Now they re-team with Amelia Cole artist Nick Brokenshire for The Once and Future Queen. This series from Dark Horse takes a look at the legend of King Arthur in a new light. Kirkbride and Knave recently told Westfield’s Roger Ash more about this upcoming series.
Westfield: What was the genesis for The Once and Future Queen?
D.J. Kirkbride: Adam, Nick, and I were wrapping up Amelia Cole but didn’t want to stop working together. Artistically, Nick wanted to stretch beyond the all-ages trappings of Amelia, so Adam and I set our sights on something a little edgier. We all love fantasy, but thought about going in a darker direction, more swords that actually do damage and magic that came from spells and runes rather than kind of magical light shows–which all have rules, mind you, but the differences in the artistic presentation were important. Magic is less clean and bright in this series. A little messier.
Adam P. Knave: Yeah, we wanted to land in the YA realm, instead of All-Ages for this and needed an idea. We do that. Kind of figure out the kind of story we might enjoy and then see if anything in our heads fit. Which is where the phone call started. D.J. and I, we’ll hop on a call and just riff on ideas, landing, often, nowhere near where we started from but always on a spot that is near and dear to our hearts.
Westfield: What can you tell us about the series and who are some of the characters we’ll meet?
Knave: Making Rani, our Queen, a chess champ explained a lot about who she was to us. We still have fun, we’re still us and there’s a sense of humor to things, but there is a seriousness in Rani that informs the tone of the book. Also keeping the grand sweep of Arthurian myth, while changing bunches of the details and aims of it, always remained important to the series. Action, adventure, myth, and modern were our signposts. Outside of Rani we wanted to surround her with people that not only complemented her but did so in a way that allowed them to be fully fleshed out characters as well. Gwen is a bit of a hot head at times, and Lance needs to work things out for himself to see where he moves and when. Merlin…we don’t want to say a lot about Merlin yet, for so many reasons.
Kirkbride: We also have some very serious villains. The King in Shadow is ruler of the Fae realm, and these aren’t sparkly faeries with cute wings flying around a garden. Our Fae are freaky and scary creatures to us–though we don’t look so adorable and inviting to them either.
Westfield: How much planning did you do for who would take on these roles?
Kirkbride: We decided pretty much right from the start to concentrate on what we saw as the key players in the original stories: Arthur, Gwynevere, Lancelot, and Merlin. Our modern tweaks were to make the Arthur character a female and settled on the very comic booky name of Rani Arturus. Shortening the names for the other two was easy, and then we have a little fun with the take on Merlin where he ages a little, well, differently.
Knave: We also play with some of the well-known tropes of the myths in terms of relationships and how this all works, and all of that came from the modern setting. There was a lot of back and forth from all of us on how this could work and what any one change forward would mean overall.
Westfield: What challenges did you have putting the Arthur story into today’s world?
Knave: Oh so many. You want to have knights and all that but also you don’t have horses, so you need a plan for that (we have one). Also, at a base level, Arthur was the King of England tasked partly with drawing factions together, so that had to adapt. Even Excalibur had to adapt as people don’t just run around with swords now, without being noticed. We had to stop and look at each thing and find ways to translate it and not only make it work in general but a way to make it work with our story so that everything grew and shaped correctly. Luckily, we have experience with world building thanks to Amelia.
Kirkbride: It was a big challenge to build upon what we’ve learned making comics over the years without repeating ourselves. We also did work hard on adapting the general feel of Arthurian legend without simply regurgitating it or going, “It’s King Arthur–with a cell phone!”
Westfield: How do you two write together?
Kirkbride: We’ve developed a pretty smooth co-writing style over the years. The two of us develop the basics of the overall story, then one of us does a beat pass of the first issue. The other develops that into a rough script draft that we then both revise. For the next issue, the other one does the beat pass, and so on and so forth. We confer with Nick each step of the way in the initial writing until we bring in our editor Shantel LaRocque. Our letterer Frank Cvetkovic also helps us refine the text when we get to the final passes.
Knave: In reality he does nouns, I do verbs.
Westfield: You’re once again working with artist Nick Brokenshire. What can you say about your collaboration with him?
Knave: Nick is our everything. He has input into every inch of the story and characters and makes us look good. His storytelling is so stunning, it pushes us to work harder which pushes him to work harder and so on. We’re, honestly, the three of us, pretty much family at this point. We’ve been in the trenches together for years.
Kirkbride: He’s our first audience, so we’re really writing to impress him. If Nick gets excited about the story, then we know it’s not only going to look great, but he’s going to suggest ideas and help us add layers and texture to everything.
Westfield: Any closing comments?
Kirkbride: Being able to continue working with Nick and Adam has been great. We’ve grown as collaborators over our years on Amelia Cole, and it’s great to be able to hit the ground running with this new series.
Knave: This is, to date, my favorite comic to work on. I adore it, daily. I think other people will, as well.