Titan Comics launched its new “Torchwood” comic this week, and the main story was written by a team that would rival the Doctor and his companion.
Carole Barrowman just might be the coolest English professor at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Not only does she get to teach popular classes about science fiction and mystery writing, but when she heads out west to Comic-Con International in the summer, she gets to ride shotgun with Captain Jack Harkness from “Torchwood.”
The sister of John Barrowman, the actor who plays Captain Jack on the international hit BBC series, has been a huge fan of genre television and movies her entire life, so when her brother landed a role first on “Doctor Who” and then as the star of its spinoff, “Torchwood,” she thought she’d died and gone to Gallifrey.
Two years ago, the Barrowman siblings went to San Diego for a signing of John’s biography, “Anything Goes,” which Carole co-wrote. Already considering possible writing projects they could do together within the “Torchwood” universe, a meeting with British comic book artist Tommy Lee Edwards led to the creation of a story featured in “Torchwood” #1 titled, “Captain Jack and the Selkie.” It’s one of two original Torchwood stories in the issue and sees Jack facing a deadly threat on a remote Scottish island, where people are disappearing one by one.
The second story is the first of a five-part story written by “Torchwood” script editor Gary Russell. Titled “Broken,” the story sees Captain Jack, Gwen and Ianto trapped in a cosmic hotel, while an old villain from the TV series returns.
CBR News spoke with Carole Barrowman about the new “Torchwood” comic, the novel she and her brother will be working on next and what she hopes to see from “Torchwood” when the TV series re-launches in 2011 on Starz.
CBR News: Obviously, you have a vested interest in a new “Torchwood” comic because of your brother’s involvement with the franchise, but what is it about the concept of the TV series and its universe that you love?
Carole Barrowman: You know, even if John hadn’t been Captain Jack and been in “Torchwood,” I’m sure, I mean, I know it would have been something that I certainly would have watched because I’m very much a lover of all that kind of broadly-based, “X Files” kind of stuff. I was a huge “X Files” fan and I actually teach a class at the college where I work on fantasy and science fiction in film and in television, so I know I would have been a big fan despite all of that. I’m excited to see where it’s going to go.
Now, the story you and John have contributed to the new, ongoing comic is not an original story for this series. It appeared before in the “Torchwood” magazine, correct?
That’s right. It originally ran in Titan Publishing’s “Torchwood” magazine. That issue was such a huge seller that Titan then decided the American audiences deserved to have the comic and to actually do something more regularly with the “Torchwood” comic, because I guess the comic is a very popular part of the magazine.
Originally, ours was a one-off for the magazine. It’s self-contained. It’s not a prequel or a sequel or any of that stuff. But then it was such a popular issue for the magazine, when they decided they were going to do a “Torchwood” comic in the U.S., they picked ours to be reprinted for the premiere issue. We were thrilled, of course, that they liked it that much and the people, who are into that stuff, loved it too. We’d love to do another one if the opportunity comes up.
So we won’t see a follow-up to your story in the second issue?
No, it’s just a one-off. I think the other one that is running by Gary Russell will be continued. But ours is just a one-off, at least for now . [Laughs] That is to say, there might be another one in the future, but for right now, it’s just a one-off.
For people unfamiliar with “Captain Jack and The Selkie,” what can you share with us about the story?
The story itself actually was from a short story that I had written and that John always really liked. It’s set in Scotland where, of course, we both grew up and spent our childhoods. We always wanted to do something with that background. We got talking, and when we decided we wanted to do something with Tommy Lee Edwards, we thought it was just enough of a creepy fantasy, sci-fi kind of a story. We thought, let’s put Captain Jack into it. How would it change the story?
So we brainstormed how my short story would change if Captain Jack had once had a relationship with the Selkie and the Selkie wasn’t everything it seemed to be. The Scottish myth of the Selkie is a very big, mythological tale in Scotland. What if there were some roots to the Selkie that were, say, alien? Really, that all just came from a brainstorm about an original story that I had written.
It was sort of a feminist re-telling of the story of the Selkie. The whole idea that something is killing off men that are abusing their wives was in the original story, but none of this sort of alien [aspect] and Captain Jack being the hero and maybe even responsible for that thing being there in the first place. Captain Jack is so ancient and old and yet young at the same time, he actually could have been the one that perpetuated the myth of the Selkie to protect this being. All of that is subtext in the story. We just had a blast figuring out how to work that in, so if you like, the frame was there and then we twisted it and reworked it and made it a vehicle for Jack.
Because I have to ask, in terms of continuity, where does this story fit?
I realize to a lot of people, and I hear from many of them, this is outside the “Torchwood” canon, but if you have to think of it as somewhere in canon, John and I thought it would be a moment between the end of “Children of the Earth” and whatever else is going to happen, if that makes sense. It’s why he is traveling alone. There’s no one with him, he’s gone. Obviously, when you do a comic like this, it has to go through lots and lots of people, not just with a comic but anything where you’re sort of doing something within a very complicated and wonderful franchise. Lots of people have to look in on it and make sure you’re OK and are not stepping on toes and you’re not saying something that’s going to be coming up or not coming up.
So everyone was comfortable with it being a little bit ambiguous about where it was, but from John’s and my perspective, we sort of imagined this as the sort of whatever crisis Jack would be having after “Children of Earth.” This would be a moment then, I think.
I guess having Captain Jack himself riding shotgun with you, finding his voice for this story came pretty easy?
Right. What happened is, John and I did all the brainstorming and he and I sort of talked through it. Generally, that’s how we work. When I was writing his biographies for him, “Anything Goes” and “I Am What I Am,” that’s pretty much how we work. He doesn’t write. He’s very creative and very imaginative, but writing is not his medium. What we did was, he would brainstorm with me, we got the story, then I scripted the comic with Tommy Lee [Edwards]. Then, every time when we got a draft, we’d shoot it to John and what he really was, was Captain Jack then. He would come back and say, “Jack might do this but he probably wouldn’t do that,” or, “He would definitely say this but he wouldn’t say that.” That kind of thing.
John kept us honest about Jack and his sensibilities. I hope this comes across as a little bit of a darker side of Jack. Also, I think having spent quite a bit of time on the “Torchwood” set with John when we were writing together, helped a lot, because I was able to see Captain Jack in process, if you will.
You mention a darker side – does it get any darker than “Children of Earth,” because American audiences certainly responded well to that series when it aired on BBC America.
I can’t really speak for Titan, but I think one of their reasons for doing this is to give people a chance to see Captain Jack in a different guise. If all American audiences have seen him in is maybe “Doctor Who,” they don’t really know Jack.
The fact that Starz is bringing “Torchwood” to the American audiences next year, I just think the more ways people can access the mythology and the history through things like comics, will just add to the excitement of what’s coming.
While they haven’t announced all the details, it sounds like Captain Jack will be working with some Americans in the new series, as well. With you being based in the States, does that already get you thinking about some different stories you can tell with Captain Jack for comics, novels or other media?
Well, actually, John and I have committed – it hasn’t really gone anywhere yet because we’ve been on hold until we knew what was going to happen to “Torchwood” franchise, and I’m pretty sure this is public knowledge, and if it’s not it is now, but I think it is. John and I agreed to do a “Torchwood” novel. Actually, we were commissioned before we were asked to do this comic and it’s been kind of sitting on hold because we weren’t sure where is it was going to fit. So we have an idea, which I think is a terrific idea, we’re going to have to, obviously, run it past [creator] Russell [Davies] and all of those other people at BBC. But when this “Torchwood” novel that we’ve been commissioned to do takes off, I think it will expand – not so much expand, but given where I think the “Torchwood” franchise is going to go, and Russell just said this very recently in an interview, it’s going to be much more of a global story. What John and I had actually imagined would fit perfectly into that frame, so I’m excited to see the kickoff of all of that next year.
I’m glad that Starz, a pretty sophisticated cable network, is doing it because I don’t think Jack will be watered down at all. I know it has been a fear of some fans, and to be honest, when people ask me that and signings and things, my response is: “Russell is not that kind of writer. Russell would never let that happen.”
Is it possible that Starz may even allow Captain Jack even more freedoms?
Jack could be unleashed on a whole other level in a way that’s exciting and adventurous and sexy and challenging – all of those things. With Russell’s track record, he doesn’t shy away from any of these issues that people have been worried about happening with the show coming to American television.
“Torchwood” #1 is in stores now.