Most men are lucky enough to survive one go around with the She-Devil with a Sword Red Sonja, but creator Dan Brereton picks up his weapon of choice once more this November when Dynamite Entertainment releases the one-shot “Red Sonja: Deluge,” written by Brereton with art by Chris Bolson.
Easily identified by her scarlet tresses and unique choice in armor, Red Sonja first appeared in the pages of Marvel Comics’ “Conan the Barbarian” #23. Sonja quickly became a recurring character in the title, eventually gaining her own self-titled series under the Marvel banner. She even spawned her own live-action movie starring Brigitte Nielsen and Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1985. Currently, the seductive sword-swinger makes her home at Dynamite, taking center stage in a number of one-shot titles and spilling blood monthly in her own ongoing “Queen Sonja” series.
A longtime fan of the redheaded warrior, Brereton first took a stab at writing Red Sonja with “Red Sonja Annual” #3, which hit comic shops earlier this year. As round two with the beautiful but deadly mercenary edges closer, Brereton spoke with CBR News about his upcoming one-shot, the impressions a girl in a chainmail bikini made on his young mind and the possibly of taking on Red Sonja on a regular basis.
CBR News: Dan, you’ve written Red Sonja in her annual earlier this year, and now you’re back once again. How did this current project come about?
Dan Brereton: I had actually done a cover, back in 2006. I was talking with Nick Barrucci and I said, “I want to do a Red Sonja cover. I love Red Sonja.” And he goes, “Okay.” I was waiting for an assignment, but he said to just send him a cover. So I sent one over, and what basically happened was that I realized there was a story behind it. [The cover] was what we call an inventory cover, but I said that I had a story to go with it and he said that I could do an eight-page story. But nothing ever happened. So, for a couple years, I never saw the release of the cover on anything. I reminded [Dynamite] about the cover and that I had a story to go with it and they said, “Why don’t you pitch it to us,” so I did. At the time it was called “Red Sonja and the Lonely King.” It was a one-shot and they said I could do some pages of interior art and write it and they’d use the cover. I said, “Great.” That became the annual for this year, which was fine with me. A couple months after it came out, I got this e-mail that asked if I wanted to do another one-shot. I said, “Yeah! Sure!”
So, you pitched them the idea for the current one-shot “Deluge” at that point?
Well, I don’t know if I’m speaking out of turn or not, but I had just gotten Joe [Rybandt] to respond to one my three pitches. I pitched them three ideas, about a paragraph each. He picked the one that was my first idea, but wasn’t necessarily my favorite idea. I still liked the idea, though, and that was “Deluge.” The same day I decided I would write “Deluge,” someone from marketing at Dynamite e-mailed me saying, “We need something for Previews.” And I’m like, “For what?” They’re like, “For that Red Sonja you’re doing right now, ‘Deluge.'” I was like, “What? When is it coming out?” They’re like, “October.” [Laughs] This was back in July or something. Nobody told me it was coming out right away. But I sat down and wrote up something for them, went through a couple of drafts and then it was done and accepted. They started sending me layouts and stuff and the book is now coming out in November. But when they were telling me that the book was coming out in a few months, I was like, “You don’t expect me to do any interior art for this, do you?” And they were like, “Not this time. We’re going to have someone else do it,” which turned out to be Chris Bolson.
As you mentioned, you normally draw your own stuff, but what was it like working with Chris on this?
It’s funny, because I think that when I’m writing these things, I make challenges to the artist and I don’t know what I’m going to get back. At the beginning of this story, there are massive floods and there’s mud and all kinds of stuff going on when Red Sonja is riding to this temple. I was like, “How is this going to look?” I’m not drawing it, so it’s not up to me. I saw the pages that came back and they looked great. So, I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of it.
You just hit on the opening of the story and we know that it basically follows Sonja as she takes shelter from that storm you mentioned at this inn. But what else can you say about what we’ll be seeing in this story?
I wanted to do a couple things. I wanted to pit Sonja against the elements. I wanted to show that, at least when I’m writing her, she has some sort of relationship with her horse. Back then, it was the horse that was going to get you through. The whole story isn’t about her horse, but the fact that she cares about her horse is important to the story. That’s one of the themes. The other thing I wanted to do is have her interact with people in a setting where she was an outsider, where she was a fish out of water – where she is being manipulated and she gets caught in the middle of this conflict. She needs to deal with these never-do-wells without just hacking them all to pieces.
You mentioned before that you were a fan of the character. What is it about Red Sonja do you like, as both a fan and a writer? How did you approach writing her in this story?
I see her as being as complex as you want her to be or as simple as you want her to be in any situation. A character who is a mercenary, like Sonja or Conan, I think there’s a little bit of bipolar, manic-depressive thing going on because they have a really hard life. They kill people for a living and they’re always traveling. They don’t have a home. So, you think they’d need to go to taverns and stuff and drink and enjoy themselves to forget their troubles and unwind. It’s not crazy to think that Red Sonja, not necessarily has a drinking problem, but they enjoy their drinks. It’s how they get through their existence. I think it’s a great diversion from killing, but she doesn’t dislike killing. In this story, she just wants to get a good night’s sleep. She’s just tired. She’s coming out of the rain and was caught in a storm, but it turns out she’s not going to get any rest in this place. It’s actually interconnected – the storm and the flood and the town. It’s hard to deal with character issues in 25 pages and still be entertaining. You got to have fight scenes. You have to have violence. It wasn’t necessarily a challenge to do that, but it was part of the job and it was fun.
When were you first introduced to the character? Was it the movie?
[Laughs] No. It was the Marvel comic from the ’70s. I was a kid back then and I was reading “Conan.” I was pretty much a Marvel junkie – from “Man-Thing” to “Thor” to “Conan.” My first exposure to Red Sonja was in “Conan,” and it wasn’t Barry Windsor-Smith, it was John Buscema. There’s a story arc that I remember picking up from 7-Eleven back in, like, 1975. I loved the idea that Conan had this sort of beautiful sidekick, although she didn’t really act like a sidekick. That was another thing that was cool about her – she wasn’t just happy to just tag along with him. At the end of the story, she left him. I think that piqued my interest even as a kid, because I wasn’t used to that. Let me see what number it is. I have it around here somewhere.
You still have the issues?
I have a room in my house with my favorite books having on the wall. [Laughs] “Conan” #43 was the first one, and I think it went into #44. So, we’re talking 1974. I don’t know if was the costume or just her temperament. It was probably a combination. What interests a 9 year-old kid or an 8 year-old kid? I thought Sonja was just a great companion for my favorite barbarian character, in the beginning. Then she got her own book and I became aware of that later. She was fun and she was tough. I just thought that stuff was really cool. As an artist, I’m drawn to the art. Now, I look at these characters I took for granted as a child and think, “What makes these characters tick?” I love the idea that Conan is in some ways a manic-depressive. He’s a great merc and that he likes his wine is very telling about him. When they’re not battling and fighting and in the midst of some conflict, they have down time and I think they don’t know what to do with themselves. So they like to divert themselves from that, whether through violence or drink. That’s how they got through things in that lifestyle. As for the movie, I was completely disappointed. [Laughs] Where was the chainmail bikini? It’s Red Sonja, and when you think about it, she’s wearing that to invite trouble. If you want to stick your hands in the cookie jar, you’re going to get them chopped off.
One last thing I wanted to talk about, tying into something we hit on earlier. You obviously have ideas for the character and like the character. Do you want to explore those ideas in future issues, and also, would you like to actually draw a full “Red Sonja” issue or story yourself?
I had a lot of fun doing the eight pages in the annual, but it takes a lot longer to draw eight pages than it does to write eight pages, so there is a certain allure there from the point of being a writer. I like that I can come up with a story and I can hand it off and then think about another story. So, I don’t mind that I’m not doing the art all the time. But of course I would love to do one if time and scheduling permitted. If they wanted me to do a whole book, I would do that, but it would take a little longer to finish. Let me put it this way; if they said, “Do you want to a do a Red Sonja one-shot and do all the art,” it wouldn’t be coming out in three months. But I think I would welcome the opportunity to write Red Sonja more regularly rather than just do one one-shot every year where I was doing the art. I couldn’t write and illustrate a monthly, but I could write a monthly. I’m just happy to work on the character in any capacity. Being able to dabble with established characters is just too much fun.